SUBALTERNS' COURT-MARTIALS. T "" mess "—to use Lord Cranborne's useful, if
some- what homely, phrase—in the Guards will come before Parliament in a very few days. We shall, therefore, say as little as possible about Admiral Cochrane's allegations as to how his nephew was treated by the subalterns of the regiment and as to the attitude of the commanding officer; or as to the way in which Mr. Bromley-Davenport meets these allegations. Till all the facts are heard it is essential that opinion on the merits of the particular case should be sus- pended. We can, however, without prejudicing matters, make one or two remarks on certain general aspects of the question. But first we would also ask the public to re- serve judgment in regard to the action of Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief. It must be remembered that in respect of his Share in the matter we have heard nothing whatever but accusation and innuendo, and that entirely from the side of those who allege that he acted hastily and unjustly. Not a word has been said by any one empowered to speak for him. Needless to say, we think that the Cemmander-in-Chief is perfectly right in main- taming this attitude of strict reticence. • He is answerable to the Secretary of State, and through him to Parliament, and has no concern with letters to the newspapers or with private gossip. But this reticence does not show that the facts when disclosed will not justify his action, but rather the reverse. We trust, therefore, that the country will re- main perfectly unbiassed on this part of the question, con- fident till the reverse has been proved, if it can be, that the most honoured and the most loyal of its public servants has not done anything which it or he will have cause to regret. We have not, of course, the slightest desire to sUggest that the action of the Commander-in-Chief should be Judged by a different and more lenient standard than that applied to -the acts of other men -because he has laid the nation under so deep a debt of gratitude by his achievements in the field. Justice to _the individual is 4 sacred matter, and Lord Roberts would be the last man in the world to ask that his action, whether just or unjust, should he. endorsed merely because it was his action. There iS no fear of our being drawn into a Dreyfus case to sVport the Men in authority: Personally we find it (Effie cult, nay impossible, to believe that Lord Roberts-will- be found to have acted throughout this squalid and disagree. able business otherwise than with justice and firmness ; but in any case let the facts be known and justice done.
But quite apart from the merits in Colonel Kinloch's special case is the matter of subalterns' Court-Martiats. Whatever else may be the result of the incident, these are doomed. The whole system is so silly, so childish, so un- manly that we find it difficult to write with patience of the matter. We are the last people in the world who want to see the Army made prim or mawkish. A certain amount of rough-and-tumble and of good-tempered bear. fighting, however boisterous, is good for young men, and there is no need to discourage it. But between the com- radely exhibition of high spirits which takes place, and we trust always will take place whenever young Englishmen are gathered together, and the solemn and fatuous idiocy of a subalterns' Court-Martial there is a world of difference. Again, we have no objection to young men who are inclined to give themselves airs, who show effeminacy of conduct, or who have undesirable habits being schooled in a reasonable way and made to understand what is becoming; but this can be accomplished perfectly well without recourse to sticks, billiard-cues, and bare flesh. At the Universities and at West End clubs people are not flogged after a, solemn mock-trial and punishment carried out by a force of ten to one, and yet members of Colleges and club members are restrained from conduct disagreeable to their fellows. It is true that at Eton and other public schools boys are caned, and often with the happiest results, by their fellows for minor breaches of discipline ; but then they are schoolboys and under restraint. When a boy leaves school, ceases to be a boy, and becomes a man, he must be supposed to have put away childish things. In all civil employment and in the Navy—Midshipmen, who are boys, are " tanned," but not Lieutenants of twenty-five—when a boy becomes a man corporal punishment is considered an impossibility.' Why should the wearing of the King's uniform in the Guards and the holding of the King's commission con- stitute a man an exception, and make him liable till he is nearly thirty to have to submit to a ridiculous and painful, and for a man degrading, punishment on what are often frivolous and childish grounds ? We have no desire. to take the sentimentalist's view that all corporal punish- ment should be abolished, for under reasonable restraint it does, not harm, but good when administered by masters, or even by the boys themselves, in schools; but it is entirely unfitting in the case of grown men in an honourable profession of whom great and grave responsibility may any day have to be exacted. No wonder young men who are liable to be flogged are not easily got to take their business seriously. A subaltern fresh from flogging, or being flogged, might be excused for thinking that the Guards was only Eton over again, and that as long as he had a good time, got through his work with- out too many "yellow tickets," and did not offend " the Beak" too openly, he had done all that could possibly be expected of him. The way in which the Guards have been able to keep their floggings secret from the rest of man- kind undoubtedly argues a great deal for the reticence and discretion of the officers as a whole; but now that the thing has been made public it is, we trust, over for ever. The silly, babyish business will certainly go to its grave unwept. We have said nothing of the effect of subalterns' Court- Martials and the floggings on the men, for the point is really too humiliating to be elaborated in the public Press. We will, however, ask one question,—Is the system likely to increase the respect felt by the men for their officers ?
Another point which is general, and not particular to the case now before the country, deserves attention. That is the question of regimental responsibility. Wnhold, and we believe the nation as a whole holds, that a Colonel must be held responsible for the general good conduct and " tone " of his regiment. Excuses or explanations in regard to anything which goes on in the regiment that is -contrary to military efficiency, however apparently reasonable those excuses and explanations may be cannot be held to -relieve him of responsibility. Unless this is the attande adopted by those- in authority, including the House of Commons and the nation in the last resort, we shall never have an efficient'Army.- Every man applies this principle of exacting. responsibility in private business. The head -of the firm finds that a great many unsatisfacto7 things have been going on in his office which were, or ought to have been, within the purview of his manager. In the circumstances he holds the manager responsible, and either censures him or dismisses him, according to the gravity of the indiscipline, bad "tone," or irregularities that have prevailed. In the same way the Admiralty always holds a Captain of a ship prima' facie responsible for the loss of or injury to his ship. He may be able to show that he is not in fault, but prima facie he is responsible. But this simple rule of enforcing responsibility upon a particular individual is of greater, not less, obligation in the Army than in civil life. As military discipline makes it easy for a Colonel to maintain strict order in his regiment, so a high standard of responsibility should be exacted from him. To lay down this obvious principle that a Colonel must be held responsible for what goes on in his regiment—a principle which, we believe, was only a few months ago specially set forth by Lord. Roberts in an Army Order—is in no way to prejudice the rase against Colonel Kinloch, for he and his friends would no doubt be the first to admit its cogency. The questions as regards him—upon which we, of course, offer no opinion—are whether things went on in his regiment which ought not to have gone on; and whether, granted such things went on, they were of the kind of which he ought not to have remained ignorant, or else of the kind about which he could not reasonably be expected to have any knowledge.
One or two more points are to be noted before we leave this distasteful subject, and that is the question of whether a Colonel removed. from his command in circumstances similar to those in which Colonel Kinloch was removed ought or ought not to have been court-martialled, or had his conduct made the subject of a regular and strict inquiry. In this particular instance we can pro- nounce no opinion, because we do not know the facts; but the general principle is, we think, clear. We hold that, in view of the maintenance of the efficiency of the Army, the Commander-in-Chief ought to be able to remove a Colonel without cause assigned, and merely because his superior is convinced that the Colonel, however blameless of any specific military offences or laches, is not doing well with the regiment, and has not established a sufficiently high standard of efficiency among men and officers. We are always declaring that the Army must be carried on on business lines, and certainly no business man would consent to " run " a great concern unless he could dismiss the head of a department in that business simply because he did not find him generally efficient. He would repu- diate as impossible the idea that he could not dismiss the head of the department without formulating grave charges against him. The business man has again and again to act on a general impression that the department is not flourishing, and will not flourish, while such-and-such a man is manager. As he would say,—' I look to results, and if I find, the results bad, Tact; but my action is not necessarily an accusation of essential unworthiness in the man I find unable to give me the results I want.' He may know, indeed, that the manager in question has every sort of good moral quality, and is from many points of view an excellentperson, and yet he may think him to be the wrong man in the wrong place. But though we would maintain the right of dismissal on purely general grounds, we hold. that if and when a definite and injurious charge is preferred by a superior, and. a specific military fault alleged, then an inquiry should. be made. If a man is accused of a definite military misfeasance, by all means let him be heard; but at the same time we must jealously guard the right of dismissal without definite cause assigned, for on it rests in no small degree the efficiency of every human organisation. Another matter of importance deserving notice is this. It is urged that if disciplinary mock Court-Martinis are sup- pressed, there must be some way of warning, and ultimately getting rid. of, undesirables. We would give the Colonel power, if he has not got it already, to get rid, of any officer who appeared undesirable during his first year of probation, and. not merely on military grounds, but because he was lowering the tone of the regiment by idle and. dissolute habits, or by making himself disagreeable in a real sense to his brother-officers. Some Colonels would doubtless greatly dislike this new responsibility, but for all that it should be imposed on them. We have but one word more to add. Though we have spoken strongly upon the childishness and folly of the system of subalterns' Court-Martinis as it has been allowed to develop in, at any rate, one regiment of the Brigade of Guards, we are most anxious that it should not be supposed that we imagine that the system in an mg. getsted form has always existed in the Guards. Such an idea is, we believe, a delusion. Again, it must not be supposed that, because we have spoken out plainly as to what we think a grave error, we fail to recognise the high military character, not only of the Guards as a whole, but of the distinguished regiment specially involved.. It is not because we are enemies of the Guards, but because we are among their warmest admirers and. supporters, that we want to see them freed from what a year after the system has been abolished they will all agree was a childish and unnecessary system. He is an enemy, not a friend, of the Guards who endeavours blindly to support the existing system of subalterns' Court-Martinis.