TOPICS OF THE DAY.
COLONEL WINSTON CHURCHILL.
THE return of Colonel Churchill to the House of Commons, which we are told is to be permanent, has set going a number of rumours as to the future of the most audacious and brilliant figure in our public life. Colonel Churchill, it is alleged, is to come back into the Cabinet, and to come back as Irish Secretary. Our first impulse is to treat these rumours with indifference and contempt, as something which no sane person can contemplate seriously, and we are bound to say that personally we do not regard them as well founded. Still, the dangers which must flow from his return to office, were it to take place, are so many and so great, and the peril of impairing the stability of the Cabinet by the inclusion of such an influence as his is so far-reaching, that we feel it is better to run the risk o f having discovered a mare's-nest than to fail to speak out before it is too late. With so much of apology, we must state the reasons which should prevent any sane Government from availing themselves of the brain-power and vigour of action that Colonel Churchill unquestionably possesses. With Colonel Churchill we have no personal quarrel. It is on his public acts alone that we judge him. Whether he has the qualities that might make him a successful autocratic demagogue of the kind of which the history of the French Revolution affords examples we shall not attempt to decide, but we are certain, judging from his past record, that he has a restlessness of mind and an instability of purpose, joined with the reckless egotism of the politidal gambler, which would make him a - most dangerous element in a Cabinet where joint action has to be secured by scrupulous loyalty to a common cause, and where self-suppression and self-sacrifice are essential. What is wanted in the Ministry just now is a man who can he trusted. But who dare say that Colonel Churchill has the quality of political trustworthiness ? Be his political genius what it may, he is above all things a mauvais coucheur. The men who have to lie in the bell-tent of the War Council would deserve our sincerest pity were he included. ..Those who can throw their memories back thirty years will remember the story of how, after Lord Randolph Churchill had left Lord Salisbury's Ministry for a month or so, the Prime Minister was asked why he did not once more include in his Cabinet a politician so brilliant in debate and so dangerous in opposition. Lord Salisbury is said to have answered in a figure. He asked his inquirer whether he had ever had a carbuncle on his neck. " If you have ever had one, you are not likely to want to repeat the experience." But the predent Administration has had experience of Colonel Churchill. When, then, we record our protest against his inclusion in the Ministry, we are not indulging in prophecy, or in mere prejudice against an untried man of whom it might be'said that the responsibilities of great office will steady him and prove his high qualities. Colonel Churchill both before and during the war held one of the highest offices in the State. Therefore he can be judged by the only safe test for a politician—not by rumour or by speculations as to what he might or might not do when in power, but by an ample public record. That record must be recalled. It is one which shows that he has the qualities which should militate against his appointment to a War Cabinet. It is a record of recklessness in speech, of waywardness in action, of irresponsibility in word and deed, of the committal of his colleagues behind their backs to doubtful courses, of ! the use of a persuasive and dominating personality for self- advancement=or, if that is prejudging the case, for the adoption of dangerous and ill-judged action. It shows a man capable not only of acting rashly, but of following rash deeds by raslier,attempts to vindicate them, a man willing to risk the welfare of the nation rather than confess to failure.
Before, however, we deal with the specific items of his record it is only just and fair that we should set .forth the credit side of the balance-sheet. We admit in the fullest possible way that there is one important item which must be placed to Colonel Churchill's credit. We are not going into the controversy as to whether, as a matter of fact, it was he or another member of the Board of Admiralty who took the responsibility of giving the orders for the mobilization of the Fleet, or, rather, for maintaining the mobilization which a thrice-happy fortune had ordered for other purposes— those of the naval review and manoeuvres of July, 1914. In any case, Colonel Churchill was at the head of the Admiralty, and could have overborne those who actually gave the order to stop demobilization. Therefore the credit of an act of far-reaching importance must be allowed to him without any grudging or reduction.
Now for the other side of the account. And here let us say that we shall not allow any weight whatever to the rumours as to what went on in the Cabinet. In all probability those rumours, like most Cabinet rumours, were misleading. We are going to judge Colonel Churchill solely by facts known to the public. . First of these is the Antwerp fiasco. Here, no doubt, the formal responii- bility rests with the Government who sanctioned and endorsed a scheme which began with a wild and ill-prepared rush into Antwerp and ended in a wild and disastrous rush out of it. At the same time, it would be absurd to ignore the fact that in all human transactions of this kind there must be some one who suggests and inspires a particular action. In this case the person was Colonel Churchill. Here, if ever, is an example of securus judicat orbis terrarum. It is some- thing more than mere gossip which joins the name of Colonel Churchill to the Antwerp adventure. Moreover, every one knows that though Colonel Churchill had officially nothing to do with military operations, and though the attemptteedd relief of Antwerp was a purely military piece of work, he went in person to Antwerp and, as far as can be judged from the published accounts, took control of the operations, in which a body of troops composed partlyof Marines, and partly of the then untrained Naval Division (men who had not even learnt how to load and fire their rifles), were pitted against the best trained forces of e4ermany in a forlorn hope which would have been a trying ordeal for the finest veterans in the world. If Colonel Churchill had no more than a share of the collective responsibility for the Antwerp imbroglio, what in the name of wonder was he doing on the banks of the Schelde in October, 1914 ? We by no means contend that the strategic ideas behind the Antwerp Expedi- tion were bad. On the contrary, we think they were sound. But that is no great thing. It is a comparatively easy matter to develop big strategic ideas. The difficulty lies in carrying them out. Most difficult of all is the work of determining whether you have a sufficient force, and the right kind of force, to give those ideas practical effect.
One might have imagined that here would be a case of " once bitten, twice shy," but apparently in the confusion of war the Cabinet forgot even their proverbial philosophy. Next camo .a reckless verbal interlude in which Colonel Churchill, appar- ently without adequate consultation with his colleagues, placed naval German prisoners of war who had formed part of the crews of captured submarines under treatment which nominally, though not actually, constituted a breach of the Hague Convention—a course of which the Germans, as any reasonable man must have known, were in a position to compel immediate disavowal owing to the fact that they could threaten reprisals upon our prisoners in their hands. Colonel Churchill then turned his attention to another strategic problem. He saw, as did every man with anything like a head on his shoulders, that it would be an enormous advantage to the Allies if they could open communication with Russia through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. Here again the political and strategic advantages to be obtained were beyond question. All depended upon the means employed to achieve them. We had no military force ready, or at any rate on the spot, to undertake the difficult work of opening the Dardanelles by taking the Straits forts in reverse. Such trifles apparently did not weigh with Colonel Churchill. He wanted to do the thing which always proves a terrible temptation to military statesmen, and which they should rigorously banish from their minds. He wanted to win a spectacular victory, he wanted to win it quickly, and, worst of all, he wanted to win it for himself so as to be able to let his friends and supporters say, in effect, " Alone he did it I " Therefore he persuaded his colleagues—at least that is how we must once more judge the facts in spite of conventional denials—into allowing him to use the Navy to attempt the task of forcing the' Dardanelles single-handed. What the Fleet would Shave done even if it had forced the Dardanelles, and arrived in front of a city of a million people occupied by half-a-million -Turkish soldiers under German direction, no one has ever suggested. It could not have provided a landing party of more than a few thousand Marines and bluejackets. They would literally have been swallowed up in Constantinople. The scheme was a nightmare of a rash and disordered imagination. The Ministry may have been culpable in having endorsed the scheme, but that cannot justify the .inspirer of this tactical outrage. Possibly the old Cabinet—not, remember, the present National Government but Mr. Asquith's first Administration—would reply as did Pitt when the French statesman asked him how the English people could put up with so wild and dangerous a demagogue as Charles James Fox : " You have not come under the wand of the enchanter." We admit the plea for the first offence, but it cannot be pleaded twice.
Colonel Churchill's actions since he has been in opposition support our contention that his presence in a Cabinet would be a source of the gravest national peril. We say nothing as to the way in which he has first taken up and then thrown over a military career. But look at his first great Parliamentary coup de theatre, when he returned' from the front to tell the House of Commons that the only way to save the nation was to put his old enemy, Lord Fisher, into high office. Charles James Fox would not have dared' to commit such a piece of effrontery as that. Alcibiades would have recoiled from it as too impudent. As to the exact details of this sinister manoeuvre we have, of course, no knowledge, but it is obvious that what Colonel Churchill was out to do was to wreck the Cabinet. He failed to wreck. it, either then pr subsequently, when the compulsion crisis and the talk about other resignations, including that of Mr. Lloyd George, seemed to give presage of a hurricane in which the stormy petrel of politics would find work for his idle wings. We are on public grounds supporters of Mr. Asquith and his Government. But we are bound to confess that if they are so foolish as to readmit Colonel Churchill to office, and especi- ally to an office making him responsible for the government of Ireland, it will become well-nigh impossible for reasonable men to defend their action. By readmitting Colonel Churchill to their councils they would, as they surely must know, forfeit the confidence of all that is soundest and best in English public opinion.