THE OPENING OF PARLIAMENT AND THE STATE OF THE ARMY.
NO one will accuse the Spectator of not attaching sufficient importance to the question of Free-trade, or of any desire not to make it the vital and essential issue in our politics till a decision of the people has been definitely given against the new Protection. Yet in spite of that, and with a full sense of the responsibility involved, we feel bound to declare that the matter which must receive the first attention of Parliament when it meets on Tuesday is not the Fiscal question, but the Army. The state of the Army gives the Opposition an opportunity to show the nation that they are as much concerned as their rivals for the national welfare. If they are wise, they will prove that they are determined to consent neither to letting the nation live any longer in a fool's paradise, nor, if they can help it, to allowing our military affairs to drift into a condition of hopeless chaos. In spite of the immense amount that has been written and spoken about the condition of the Army and the War Office, we do not believe that the nation at large is as yet at all aware of how serious is the existing state of things, and what great risks are involved. The people in general are still inclined to think that they are only listening to the ordinary grumblings about the condition of the Army. Unhappily, the real position is something very different from this, and it is therefore the first duty of the Opposition to make the public realise the true state of affairs and to demand an account of their stewardship in military matters from the Administration, and some immediate remedy for a condition so fraught with danger. It is the prime business of an Opposition to act as the watch-dog of the commonwealth, and to sound an alarm whenever the Government are endangering national interests. But if ever there was a need for such services in regard to the Army, it is now. If, then, the Liberals will rise above smaller party considerations, and will insist on this matter being faced, they will earn the gratitude of all who care for our national well-being. We have never been among those who believe, or profess to believe, that the Liberal party wish out •of malice to weaken either the Navy er the Army, or to undermine any other safeguards of the Empire, though we admit that certain Liberals have said foolish things on the subject, and have thus created in the minds of a considerable part of the public a sense of anxiety and mistrust. This fact makes it all the more imperative that when such an opportunity as the present occurs, the Liberals should come forward and arouse public opinion in regard to the Army. But it is only by strong action in Parliament that such opinion can be roused, and some guarantee for a wiser policy be obtained.
It is not our present intention to set forth in detail the sins of omission or commission of the Government in military matters. What we want to do now is to point out that the Opposition, if they are to do their duty, must insist on the fullest and most ample discussion in Parliament, and so make the people of England realise the true position with which they have been brought face to face. We will, however, indicate very shortly the reasons for dissatisfaction which exist,—reasons which have made such strong supporters of the Protectionist party as the Times, the Standard, and the St. James's Gazette take a leading part in showing into what a con- dition the Army has been allowed to drift. Since the close of the war the Government have had more than three years in which to put the Army on a better foundation, and to remedy the evils disclosed by the struggle with the Boers. How have they used that precious interval of peace for making good the defects in tho machine ? What have they done to give us a sounder Army and a more workable administration ? Let us take the case of the artillery first. Before the close of 1902 it was not only known that our existing artillery was below the standard of safety, but an excellent type of gun had been selected to make good our deficiencies. Yet, in spite of that, the Government waited for nearly three years before giving the order to bring our artillery up to the requirements of modern warfare,.and then only did so in obedience to an agitation in the Press. That is, they wantonly left us for nearly three years in a position of weakness and danger. If this failure to strengthen the artillery had coincided with an undisturbed world and an essentially pacific foreign policy, it still, to our mind, would have been eriminally reckless. What are we to say when the failure to supply us with serviceable guns went hand-in-hand with a daring and risky foreign policy,—a policy which might at any moment involve us in the only war in which the British Empire must fight its battles on land, and where, therefore, a powerful artillery is essential? The Government when they made the Japanese Alliance must have known that it involved the risk of war in India, and that if we fought the Russians on the Indian frontier we should be at a great disadvantage in artillery, and should have to meet quick-firing guns of long range with slow-firing guns that would be hopelessly outclassed. Take next the question of administrative reform at the War Office. We admit that in the abstract it was wise to reform the administration of the Army on the model of the Navy, but the success of all such reforms depends on the way in which they are worked. We do not hesitate to say, however, that the manner in which the reorganisation of the War Office has been worked has robbed it of all its value. No competent critic will, we believe, be found to deny that the chaos of administration at the War Office is now as bad as it has ever been in the history of that unfortunate Department. Another matter which became clear at the close of the war was the immense importance of the Auxiliary Forces in the scheme of Imperial defence, and of the need for developing bodies like the Yeomanry, the Militia, and the Volunteers which had served us so well in the field. That we could not have finished the war without the aid of those bodies was proved beyond the shadow of a doubt. In such circumstances, is it not safe to say that any set of men outside the island of Laputa would have argued that the proper thing to do was to develop the Auxiliary Forces ? Not so the present Government. Their handling of the argument from the experience of the war was something of this kind :—' We could not have finished the Boer War without the aid of the Militia and the Volunteers. It is quite possible that we shall be engaged in a war in India, which may strain our resources in men even more than did the Boer War. Therefore we will abolish the Militia, and do our best to reduce the Volunteers to one-third of what they might be.' It is true that the War Office—which cannot be consistent even in its blunders—did accept the lesson in regard to the Yeomanry, and has greatly increased and improved that admirable force. It might, of course, have done the same with the Militia, and might have made the Volunteers a reservoir from which, not thirty thousand men, as in the Boer War, but fifty thousand men could be drawn off in case of need. Instead, Mr. Arnold-Forster was allowed by the Government to declare that the Militia is redundant, and that the Volunteers could only be made worth keeping by submitting to hard- and-fast regulations which must entirely alter their character, and make them poor imitation Regulars instead of citizen soldiers of a very useful type. Happily, Mr. Arnold-Forster was not allowed to give the coup de grdce to the Militia or Volunteers, and those forces are still in being. They have, however, suffered greatly, we fear, from the way in which they have been treated, and unless something is done, and done quickly, to reassure them that they are not to be cleared away as redundant they will soon solve the problem by disappearing altogether. Bodies like the Volunteers and Militia are far easier to destroy than to build up.
Into the question of the terms of service for the Regular Army, and the provision of adequate supplies of men of good quality for the Indian garrison, we cannot enter in detail. Unless, however, the information that has leaked out from time to time is singularly incorrect, the condition of affairs in regard to the supply of troops for India must be the cause of great anxiety. The Government, we fear, have tinkered and tampered with the provision of the human material, and have achieved no adequate result. Finally, there is the question of• the short and the long rifle. It would appear here that, as usual, the Government have drifted and blundered into an utterly indefensible position. It was proved beyond any doubt in the Sonic African War that mounted men of all kinds need not -a carbine, but a rifle. It was also shown that the most suitable weapon for mounted troops is a rifts of a type more handy than the infantry pattern, though, of course, firing the same ammunition. Accord- ingly an excellent mounted man's rifle was devised and approved. If matters had ended here, and adequate provision had been made for our mounted troops throughout the Empire, all would have been well. Unfortunately, however, the Government decided, because the balance of convenience was in favour of giving the cavalry a light and short rifle, that therefore the infantry must also have a light and short rifle, though it was one distinctly inferior to the Lee-Enfield in range and accuracy. Can anything more fatuous be imagined ? It is as if a man were to say :—" When I ride I find it best to wear a short covert-coat. Such a coat, it is true, does not protect my legs, and is, therefore, not a perfect form of great-coat, but it is the best compromise on a horse. Nevertheless, I like my covert-coat so much that I intend to use no other, kind of coat whatsoever, and will henceforth, out of love for my covert-coat, refuse when walking to wear a great-coat which covers me adequately." Should we not think a man who acted on such principles bereft of his senses ? Are we to think differently of the War Office when it adopts.a similar line of argument ? Before we leave the subject of the state of the Army we must deal with the attempt which is to be noticed in certain quarters to make Mr. Arnold-Forster a scapegoat, and to speak as if he alone were responsible for the condition of the Army. That, to our mind, is grossly unfair. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet accepted Mr. Arnold- Forster's schemes, and have allowed him to run the military machine, and they cannot now escape their responsibility in the matter. If former Secretaries of State for War, like Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Brodrick, were dissatisfied, and believed that the welfare of the Army, and so of the nation, was being imperilled by Mr. Arnold-Forster's policy, it was their duty to resign. Since they did not resign, they and the rest of their colleagues must be held fully responsible for the state of affairs which now exists. The nation, that is, must never for a moment allow that a member of the Cabinet can escape his responsibility in regard to matters of such vital import as the state of the Army by emitting ambiguous grumblings in public or private. Possibly gossip may be wrong in attributing to Lord Lansdowne and Mr. Brodrick opposition to Mr. Arnold-Forster. But even if such gossip is absolutely true, it cannot clear them, or the Government as a whole, of complicity. It would, indeed, only make their responsibility the greater. A member of the Cabinet who believes that on a vital 'atter wrong is being done and remains in the Cabinet is 'more, not less, blameworthy than he who has been content throughout. The Government, then, must not be allowed to shuffle off their responsibility, even if they wish to do so—and in regard to their wishes and intentions we do not, of course, profess any knowledge—by throwing Mr. Arnold-Forster to the wolves. The Prime Minister and his colleagues as a whole are responsible for the state to which the Army has been brought, and they must be made answerable to the nation. Clearly, then, it is the duty of the Opposition, the moment Parliament ,meets, to make the British people face the facts, and to realise where they stand.