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ART. XI.-1. Speech of the Right Hon. St. John Brodrick,
Secretary of State for War, in the House of Commons,
March 8, 1901. 2. My Experiences of the Boer War. By Count STERNBERG.
Translated from the German, with an introduction by Lieut.-Col. G. F. R. HENDERSON, late Director of Intelligence Head-quarters Staff, South Africa. Longmans &
Co. London : 1901. Though the Opposition has spent much time in denouncing
1 the action of Ministers of the Crown in dissolving Parliament last October, alleging with great vehemence and continued repetition that the moment was chosen on grounds of an electioneering rather than of a patriotic nature, and that the issue was unfairly laid before the electorate, it has not occurred to any statesman to dispute the meaning of the verdict which the country has given.
The nation has declared its wishes most unmistakeably. First, the South African War was to be brought to a victorious conclusion at the earliest possible date, cost what it might. Secondly, measures were to be taken to reorganise the armed strength of the Empire, so as to make its position as far as may be impregnable in the face of possible hostility on the part of foreign Powers. These being beyond all dispute the objects upon which the minds of most Englishmen last autumn were bent, it is not surprising that an overwhelming majority was given at the polls in support of the only statesmen who would, or by any possibility could, give them effect. The electors acted, in short, like practical and patriotic men. They looked at the situation as it stood, without bothering their heads overmuch as to how they got there. The present and the future, not the past, was their chief concern. They did their part, and it lies with the Government and the majority entrusted with the popular confidence to do theirs.
The circumstances of the last year and a half have assuredly been such as to justify the concentration of the public mind upon the supreme necessity of adding to the defensive strength of the Empire. Politicians who speak and write as if it were in the power of a wise ministry to render the nation secure against all danger merely by followinga policy of peace’ delude themselves, and their advice would, if the country listened to it, indefinitely increase the prospect as well as the risks of war. A nation and an Empire such as ours cannot trust its security to the good. will of its neighbours. For the past sixty years the Crown has been advised by prudent statesmen, on the whole sincerely attached to peace, which they have considered almost the highest interest of the British people, yet throughout that period hardly half a dozen years have passed without the nation haring thought itself within a measurable distance of war. The most formidable of our wars, and the most conspicuous of our recent additions to the Empire, were made, the one whilst the country was under the guidance of Lord Aberdeen, the other whilst it was ander that of Mr. Gladstone. We shall not find future statesmen more averse from war than Lord Aberdeen, more averse from extensions of the Empire than Mr. Gladstone. Diplomacy, said Mr. Balfour very truly in a recent debate, cannot be a substitute for arms. Diplomacy, without power behind it, is nothing but a broken reed, upon which no wise man would ever lean; but to realise this is not to admit that foolish fatalism which would fold its hands in the face of conflicting interests and of national jars and heated tempers, and helplessly allow angry popular disputation to lead men into wars against which all sound policy would protest. Diplomacy is no substitute for a powerful army, neither will a powerful army and a mighty fleet enable us to dispense with a prudent statesmanship and a wise diplomacy.
The problem of the adequate defence of the Empire does not present itself to the ordinary mind as one for which statesmanship should have extreme difficulty in finding a solution. We have no land frontiers to defend, with the exception of the north-west frontier of India and the southern frontier of Canada. The great colonies are inhabited by rapidly increasing populations of our fellow-subjects, full of high spirit and patriotic ardour, and are nowadays, as recent events have shown, not a burden, but a source of additional strength, to the Mother Country in time of war. Where the Empire in the first instance is vulnerable is, of course, in its trade and commerce, and by the nature of the case the defence of these must depend upon the strength of the Navy. No one supposes that towards the defence of the great self-governing colonies beyond the seas the Home Army will be able, or will be called upon, to render direct material assistance. Mr. Brodrick, in introducing the Army Estimates last month, put our normal demands for India and the Colonies at 115,000 men; of which it will be remembered that the British troops in India to the
number of nearly 80,000 are maintained at the cost of the Indian revenues. According to the wise system wbich now prevails, British troops are not, as they once were, scattered throughout the whole Empire, the greater colonies having taken over the burden of their own land defence. Outside
India, the Mediterranean stations and Egypt, the sole duty - of British troops stationed beyond the seas is to defend a certain number of harbours and coaling-stations against sudden enterprises by an enemy who may temporarily have escaped the vigilance of a British feet. Of course if that fleet bas been defeated beyond the power of rallying, no defence on the part of the garrisons of such places can prevent their ultimate capture by the Power which is supreme at sea. Indeed, permanent supremacy at sea over our enemies is the sine quá non of Imperial and national defence, and this marks the vital distinction between our own defensive position and that of every other Great Power. Naval supremacy might, indeed, be lost temporarily or locally, as has happened in the past, and for the time our garrisons would have to do as they have done in the past and maintain themselves. More than this, by the nature of the case, they cannot do.
The South African war has had the effect, rightly or wrongly, of copyincing the popular mind of the inadequacy of our national defences. A British army of 200,000 men has been straining every nerve to defeat a comparatively small number of irregular troops, the armed and mounted male population of a couple of little Dutch republics; and far too little consideration has been given by the public to the fact that the balance of inequality in point of numbers was redressed by the advantage to the defenders due to the enormous area over which our armies have had to operate, and the great length of the lines of communication which they have had to guard. The work, not merely of defeating but of conquering a high-spirited nation of European blood was on our side, from the beginning, strangely underestimated ; and we all hope that business of so difficult and deplorable a kind will not again claim the services of a British army. But in any case the absence beyond the seas of an expeditionary army of such a size must for the time greatly weaken the home military power of the nation. Naturally and properly therefore, Englishmen last year became anxious as to what might happen were we involved in war with a Power more formidable than the citizens of the two republice. Had one of the great military nations of the Continent embraced the cause of the Boers, the position of the country would no doubt have been a very serious one; and we rejoice to think that the electors have now realised the necessity of setting their statesmen to work to reorganise the mighty strength which, for defensive purposes, is andoubtedly possessed by the British people.
On the other hand, there are those who allow the special circumstances of the South African war to lull them into a false security. It would be unwise to place too much reliance on the glib talk of the day as to the superiority of irregular over regular troops, on men who depreciate the steadiness that comes from drill, and even the advantages that belong to discipline, and who assure us that with modern weapons victory will always be on the side of the defence. An invading army once landed upon the southern shores of England would have before it a very different problem from that presented to Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener north of the Orange River. The unmistakeable demand of the public is a most reasonable one, that the due safeguarding of the nation and empire requires that measures of precaution on a much larger scale than heretofore should be adopted, or at least that a complete system of defence should be thoroughly thought out, and that the country should know exactly where it stands. These are the expectations which Mr. Brodrick and Lord Roberts will do their best to satisfy. And they may rest assured that in any well-considered reforms they will be heartily supported by the people.
Before entering upon his own schemes of reform Mr. Brodrick cast his eye back to the last awakening in matters military, consequent upon the great object-lesson of the Franco-German war. It is true, as he said, that few English statesmen have been more abused than Mr. Cardwell. His reforms were resisted by much narrow and bitter professional prejudice, and every difficulty was thrown in their way by the then Opposition. But Mr. Gladstone was firm, and his party united. Purchase was abolished ; short service was established ; a reserve was started, which grew, as years went on, to 80,000 men. And now Mr. Brodrick tells us that it is owing to the Cardwell reforms of thirty years ago that in the present war we have been enabled to send out and maintain in the field an army of 150,000 efficient regular soldiers. The great merit of the reforms consisted in their conformity with our special national conditions and necessities. It was then believed that the
country would not maintain a permanently large army always ready for war, and Mr. Cardwell's endeavour, therefore, was to provide a system under which, on an emergency, our small army could be rapidly increased by the addition of a large number of well-trained and efficient soldiers. Well might Mr. Brodrick declare that our debt to Lord Cardwell's memory was great indeed! But another great military reformer of those days is still with us, and the omission of any recognition by the Secretary of State of what the army and nation owe to Lord Wolseley must be accounted the least happy feature in a generally admirable speech. Throughout a life devoted to the army the late Commander-in-Chief has fought the battle of reform against strong influences of every kind from above and from below, and some, at least, of the credit given by Mr. Brodrick to Lord Cardwell history will rightly attribute to the neverfailing energy and the great ability of Lord Wolseley.
Mr. Brodrick proposes to develope the existing military systems of the country rather than to organise on new lines. We are concerned on this occasion principally with his aims, not with his detailed measures for attaining them. Now, as has been said, in normal times the Secretary of State looks to a British army of 115,000 men as sufficient for India and the Colonies. But he says truly that we cannot keep out
of mind the possibility of having to send out a large force 'to defend our possessions ; nor can we suppose that if ever ' we should unhappily become entangled in European complications we could fulfil our engagements to our allies by limiting our operations solely to the action of our fleet, • keeping our soldiers in barracks at home. Therefore he proposes, besides providing for home defence, to have ready for immediate despatch abroad three army corps, with • proper reserves '—that is, a force of 120,000 men. Here, then, we have the whole of Mr. Brodrick's requirements as regards troops to be employed beyond the seas.
There has been some cavilling as to the necessity or expediency of maintaining so large a force as 120,000 men for employment beyond seas in view of European compli'cations, but here we entirely share the views of Mr. Brodrick. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with our past history or of the temper of mind of the British nation in time of war, will recognise the impossibility of confining the assistance which we may render to our allies, or of limiting the blows which we may deal to an enemy, entirely to the naval arm. And, as in these days an army
000 m the Secroing them.his aime
o be employed illing as to the 120,000 men