TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE APPLE OF DISCORD.
IjhUE Prime Minister in his speech at Paris apologized for J. speaking with brutal frankness. We mean to follow his example, and to deal quite plainly with his speech and the deplorable situation it has caused. A badly constructed, and therefore mischievous, scheme, supported by a still more mis- chievous speech—that is our verdict on the position. First for the scheme. Every one must agree in the abstract that the closest co-operation is wanted between the Allies to prevent waste of energy and overlapping, and for the devising of the best and most efficient strategic plans. But the moment we have said this we must add a warning. It is a capital mistake to suppose that machinery and organization can by themselves win wars, or indeed accomplish anything. Unfortunately the Prime Minister is one of a very large class of people who have far too great a belief in machinery, or, to put it in another way, forget that it is very easy to have too much machinery and that the best organization is always the simplest and least clogged. Whenever he is in a tight place or things go badly for the moment, when all that is wanted, and very often all that is possible, is determination, hard fighting, and a well-balanced mind, he rushes off at a tangent and sets up a new Committee or a new Council with a new Secretariat to feed it, quite oblivious of the fact that already there is an organization in being for doing the work, and that the only result of adding a new one—he is always too much in a hurry to abolish the old one—is that confusion is heaped upon confusion. For example, in his new device; though the abstract aim is so excellent, there is great danger of short-circuiting, here as in France, the Commanders-in- Chief in the field, the General Staffs, the War Cabinets, and the well-planned offices which supply them with naval and military. information. This, to use Mr. Lloyd George's own words, is disastrous and fatal. Mr. Lloyd George failed com- pletely to justify his new machinery by showing that the old had _been injurious, and that the new setback and the old setbacks were due to want of co-operation. But even granted that he had done so, the new form of Council is intrinsically a bad one. If he had made the present Chiefs of the Staff the expert advisers to the Council of Prime Ministers, he would have avoided the terrible dangers of friction, overlapping, and misunderstanding which he is now preparing for us and our Allies. But then of course it would not have been a new machine, but only the old one, and that unfortunately would not have satisfied the Prime Minister's unhappy lust for new Committees or his craving for substitutes. In the last resort, as Nelson knew, there are no substitutes for fighting. You have got to seek out the enemy wherever he is and destroy
Strategy is a useful helper to lay you alongside of the enemy, but to exalt it into something isolated and abstract which will relieve you of the hard part of war is an utter delusion. So much for the actual scheme. What is good in it is not new, and what is new is not good.
But we have spent too much time on Mr. Lloyd George's scheme, for, bad as it is owing to its defective form and its likelihood of creating friction, it is nothing compared with the speech. Though with great reluctance, we are obliged to call the speech mischievous, and might easily have called it by a stronger name. We are resolved, however, that, though we follow Mr. Lloyd George in plainness of speech, we will not let ourselves go as he, in the happy phrase of the Times, let himself go. his speech was an apple of discord thrown down at a moment of crisis, when the great things to be avoided were levity and irresponsibility of speech, and when calmness and steadiness were the essentials. Of course Mr. Lloyd George did not mean his speech to be an apple of discord. We understand and appreciate his patriotism of intention far too well ever to attribute anything of the kind to him. But, alas ! his good intention cannot alter the fact that it was an apple of discord. Besides the levity and irresponsibility of which we have spoken, there is in it, as so often in things rash and reckless, a strong element of injustice. His ill- founded and unhappy sketch of the history of the war was unjust, and therefore provocative of debate in a high degree. We must take it item by item. To begin with, he attributes our present dangers and difficulties to the " absence of real unity in the war direction of the Allied countries." That is a complaint which sounds just and reasonable. As a matter of fact, however, there is no good evidence behind the complaint. Certainly Mr. Lloyd George produced none. Strangely enough, it might almost be said that the evidence
all tells against him. The Allies did wrong things, as, for example, the unfortunate attack upon Gallipoli, and also the
equally unfortunate sterilization of a great army at Salonika, but in both cases the action was the result of a desire to obtain co-operation and unity, and not of what we may call water- tight-compartment strategy. We went to Gallipoli at the urgent wish of the Russians, in order to bring our Allies all the relief we could. We went to Salonika because, very possibly on what appeared good grounds at the time, France, and no doubt Russia too, were anxious for such joint action. Next, Mr. Lloyd George permitted himself to say, in an even more dangerous and fallacious passage, that " unity, in so far as strategy went, was pure-Make-believe." That we deny absolutely. Has Mr. Lloyd George forgotten the battle of the Somme ? Was that inspired by " make-believe " strategy ? A thousand times " No." It was inspired by the desire to stand by our gallant French brothers-in-arms in the greatest military strain to which they had ever been exposed, the strain of resistin., Germany's -attack 'at Verdun. If we had played the selfish water-tight-compartment game which, if the Prime Minister's words mean anything, he suegests we have been playing, we should have refused to help Frame in her agony by modifying our plans, and should have proceeded to do what our local interests no doubt demanded so impera- tively—to drive the Germans away from the coast of Flanders ;
i that is, from the outposts of their undersea attacks upon out shipping, not to mention their air attacks upon our cities. By our attack on the Somme we showed that we realized the unity of the battle line. Since then the French have been showing that they realize it also by the help they have given us on the left of our line in Flanders.
But now follows a much worse, we had almost said an unforgivably mischievous, passage in the speech. " We have won great victories. When I look at the appalling casualty-lists I sometimes wish it had not been necessary to win so many." To use such words as these is to accuse those who conduct our military operations of butchering our men. It means a yielding to the temptation which is often before the politician, but to which it is base to yield. If the man in supreme authority really believes that the troops have been sacrificed unnecessarily, let him remove the General. If not, let him refrain from this cruel and injurious taunt. Remember, it was taunts of this kind cleverly utilized by the Germans which did much to break down the moral of the troops on the Italian left. " You are being sacrificed unnecessarily," whispered the Hutt agent in the ear of the Italian soldier. Happily there is no danger of our men being influenced by such a suggestion. They, at any rate, know that there is no patent substitute for fighting, and that big casualty-lists may in the end save millions of lives. They are not going to turn round upon the surgeon and accuse him of shedding blood because he cannot cut out a cancer without causing hemorrhage. Only last winter we wrote about the danger of strategy based upon the avoidance of casualties, but we little thought that our own Prime Minister would use words so ill-considered as those we have just quoted. As Mr. Lloyd George warmed to his work, indiscretions and misreadings of history followed one another quickly. He told us, in effect, that the Allies are besieging the Central Powers ; but his analogy fails because it is incomplete. The essential feature of the existing situation is that the armies locked in conflict are in all cases both besiegers and besieged. Of course the besieging army must be ready to strike at the weakest point—that is a truism, or rather it would be a truism if we had an unlimited number of troops. Unfortunately we have nothing of the kind, and when we attack we must do so with the greatest care in regard to the conservation of military and naval energy. We fight not where we will but where circumstances say the must, and at the present moment that place is the Flanders plain.
After his faulty analogy, the Prime Minister rushed head- long into a most misleading account of the history of the war, and in essence upbraided his colleagues and himself for not having taken the opportunity of prosecuting the war in its early stages in what he calls the " important South," meaning Serbia :— While we were hammering with the whole of our might at the impenetrable barrier in the West. the &Aral Powers, foaling con• fident that we could not break through, threw their weight on that little country, crushed her resistance, opened the gate to the Peat, and unlocked great stores of corn, cattle, and minerals, yea, un- locked the door of hope—all essential to enable Germany to sustain her struggle."
Never has a greater number of fallacies and misstatements been crowded into so small a body of words. To begin with, Mr. Lloyd George speaks of " hammering with the whole of our might at the impenetrable barrier in the 'West " as if in 1915 we had got any amount of force for the purpose, and as if the barrier was by its nature too strong. That is an utterly topsy-turvy way of stating the position. The barrier was impenetrable because we were not strong enough. As a matter of fact, what seemed to Mr. Lloyd George like " hammering with the whole of our might" to break through was very largely in itself an example of the offensive-defensive. Though we hoped we might break through, what we and our French Allies were in reality doing, and were only just able to do, was to stop the Germans from breaking through and seizing Paris and the coast towns. But, apart from this, what prevented us from helping Serbia was the fact that we had used up the only force available for the purpose in the Gallipoli expedition, which we have shown already was a full-fledged example of co-ordination of effort. We have nothing to reproach our- selves with in regard to Serbia, unless it be the Gallipoli expedition, to which Mr. Lloyd George had given his full consent, for, remember, he was then, next to the Prime Minister, by far the most important man in the Ministry, and the colleague who sat by him, Mr. Winston Churchill, whom he has recalled to the Ministry, was the author and originator of the Gallipoli expedition. If we go further back, Mr. Lloyd George, as the most enterprising and live Liberal statesman, might very well, though we have no desire for such recriminations, be regarded as guilty because he did not insist upon those preparations for war which would have deprived Germany of that initiative which she possessed at the beginning and has hitherto maintained. We are not going. to blame Mr. Lloyd George for not having had more prescience ; but if he wants to know why in the last resort we could not help Serbia, it is because we had not got the men. That is the answer to his provocative and mischievous ques- tion : " Why was this incredible blunder perpetrated ? " The answer, he tells us, is simple : " Because it was no one's business in particular to guard the gates of the Balkans." Our answer is far simpler and far truer : Because, unhappily, we did not possess military power sufficient to prevent the Germans breaking through in France and Flanders, and also for a Balkan campaign. When he makes the retort that troops were ultimately sent, but as usual too late, the answer again is that it was impossible to send them earlier, and that when they were sent unity of action, which is Mr. Lloyd George's ideal, demanded that they should be sent to Salonika.
Mr. Lloyd George's accusations in regard to the conduct of the Allies towards Rumania are as fallacious as those in regard to Serbia. We most carefully refrained from anything which might savour of pushing Rumania into the war because we knew that if she got into a tight place we should not be able to help her, just as failure at Gallipoli had shown us that we could not help Russia. Rumania, however, believing that she was strong enough to fight her own battles, plunged into the war, and most unfortunately the pahacea of co-ordinated action on the part of Russia failed. Here, again, it was not for want of thinking about the problem that the failure came, but from the want of physical power and geographical opportunities. When Mr. Lloyd George says that it was the Serbian story almost without a variation, he is for once deviating into correctness. It was the Serbian situation almost without a variation because to bring help was a physical impossibility. That was bad enough. But now take Mr. Lloyd George's triumphant declaration that
" This could not have happened if there had been some central authority whose responsibility was to think out the problem of war for the whole battlefield. But once again France and England had the whole of their strength engaged in the bloody assaults of the Somme, Italy was fighting for her life on the Carso, Russia was engaged in the Carpathians, and there was no authority whose concern it was to prepare measures in advance for averting the doom of Rumania.'
The " bloody assaults of the Somme " of which, incredible as it sounds, he complains were the result of joint action. To have abandoned them in favour of an attempt to reach Rumania from the Salonika front would have been a risk that any system of co-ordination would at once have forbidden. After a suggestion that more co-ordination would somehow have helped us in the dangers caused by the collapse of Russia, comes the suggestion that we neglected the Italian front. That is altogether unjust and ungenerous. No amount of thinking about the Italian front would have helped us, unless we can imagine the Powers stopping General Cadorna's successful advance in September and telling him that he was too rash, and that instead of fighting he ought to be weeding out the spies and agents provocateurs on his left flank. On the contrary, Mr. Lloyd George evidently thinks that we ought not only to have urged General Cadorna to make a spring at Vienna, but that we and the French should have sent him troops to join in that adventure. But now comes another of Mr. Lloyd George's verbal lapses. He actually used these words, words which will seem like a burning injustice to many soldiers : " When we advance a kilometre into the enemy's lines, snatch a small shattered village out of his cruel grip, capture a few hundreds of his soldiers, we shout with unfeigned joy." Then he goes on to ask in his usual ad captandum fashion :-
" But what if we had advanced 50 kilometres beyond his lines, and made 200,000 of his soldiers prisoners and taken 2,500 of his best guns, with enormous quantities of ammunition and stores ? What print would we have for our headlines "
We should be tempted, if the matter were not so terrifically serious, to answer with the Cockney gibe : " Well, what about it ! " If we persist patiently and doggedly in the plan we have adopted, it is by no means impossible that we may strike as big a blow as the Austrians and Germans have, but certainly the way to do it is not to deride our soldiers for laying the foundations of victory and contrast their achieve- ments with the results of a piece of enemy statecraft and secret service.
We shall not follow Mr. Lloyd George into his reading to his audience of a despatch from the American correspondent of the Times, who seems to have had a lively anticipation of Mr. Lloyd George's special school of strategy, and will merely notice with regret his manner of using the threat of resignation. We venture to say that when he leaves office it will not really be through voluntary resignation, but only because the country has no further use for his services. And as we have said elsewhere, this is the solution—the compulsory retirement of Mr. Lloyd George from office— which, in our opinion, is necessary for the safety of the nation. We think it necessary in spite of our strong national dislike of the principle of swapping horses when crossing the stream. Mr. Lloyd George's peroration was perhaps the worst thing in the whole speech :—
" We shall win, but I want to win as soon as possible. I want to win with as little sacrifice as possible. 1 want as many as passible of that splendid young manhood which has helped to win victory to live through to enjoy its fruits."
We venture to say that of all the rash and wrong-headed things said during this war, this is the worst. Of course Mr. Lloyd George, like every one else, wants to save the lives of our glorious soldiers. Who is there who has not some one inexpressibly dear to him in hazard at the front ? But what will these good men and true think when they are told that the Prime Minister wants to win the war with as little sacrifice as possible ? They know—they have learnt it in the hardest school—that you cannot win on any such principle as that, that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, and that he who seeks to win cheaply will lose dearly. We have not, as our readers know, ever doubted of victory, but we confess to being terrified when our leader uses words like those we have just quoted.
Of Mr. Lloyd George's compliments to the French we shall say nothing, for no words can be too strong in which to paint the splendid valour and heroism of our Allies. They have never been misled into thinking that it is safe to try to win the war with the minimum of sacrifice. They have laid their all upon the altar.
We promised our readers to speak plainly. We fear that some of them will say that our words have not only been plain but rude, or even offensive, and that we shall be charged with a lack of good manners. If so, we can only defend ourselves in Shakespeare's words : " Be Kent unmannerly when Lear is mad."