Disarmament : All Parties Agreed
IN most ages there has been some dispute which served as a testing-rod of intelligence. Once it was the controversy as to whether the earth was round or flat. Later it concerned the divine right of kings. More recently the demand of the Irish for Home Rule divided people into those who could see what was coming and those who could not. To-day the test of intelligence is : Do you believe that war is an abiding element in national relations or do you regard it as a folly which mankind has now outgrown ? Many of us who once considered the French the most intelligent race in the world now sadly ask ourselves how this opinion can be squared with their clinging to the idea of force as the final arbiter in human affairs. What the mass of the French nation feels about it no one can say for certain. Probably they are less attached to war as 'an institution than are politicians and newspapers. Even some of the latter protest that they do not defend war for its own sake, but only because they are afraid.
In this country fear enters very little into our thoughts. It is a, proof of boldness nowadays, if not of intellectual eminence, to speak any word here in favour of war. The notice taken is confined to a pitying lift of the eyebrows or shoulders. contemptuously shrugged.. When two Somerset landowners, Sir Harry Malet and Admiral Sir Percy Green, at a British Legion dinner the other day spoke of war as " the finest form of sport " and of the League of Nations as a body " run by politicians, fanatics and cranks " their remarks were treated with silent disdain. It has been plain for a long time now that the British people loathe war as stupid,, cruel, and quite ineffective as a method, of settling quarrels. The very successful meeting which the League of Nations organized in the Albert Hall last Saturday put the seal on that certainty by bringing together the leaders of all three political Parties on a platform where they all said practically the same thing.
It was an interesting experience to be in the Albert Hall twice within a few days for two such events as this great gathering of ten thousand war-abolitionists and the twenty-first birthday dinner of the Overseas League, which had been given in the previous week. The one was the complement to the other. The Prince of Wales's plea for comradeship still echoed in the air which was filled by the Prime Minister's passionate denunciation of the " enormous, disgraceful burden of armaments," by Mr. Baldwin's quiet but no less impressive recital of some of the constituents of that burden, by Mr. Lloyd George's solemn warning that promises and pacts must be kept by those who made them. Perhaps a shade too much was said about the shoitcomings of other countries. Now and then a tone of something like recrimination was heard. Anything like that must be carefully avoided if we are to prevail over the doubts and alarms of those who still require conversion to the view that Disarmament is the logical and necessary consequence of the renunciation of war. Fortunately the Prime Minister, whose speech will be most critically studied abroad, made no reproaches, blamed •nobody for lagging behind Britain. He laid most stress on what we had ourselves promised, and on the little we have done in twelve years towards performance. The statement written out by M. Clemenceau and handed to the German representatives at the Peace Conference (it would be instructive to know what M. Clemenceau really thought of it !) declared in the clearest terms that the Allied and Associated Powers regarded the reduction and limitation of armaments as " one of the most fruitful preventives of war " and expected the League of Nations to make this " one of its first duties." And it will be getting on for thirteen years before the League is able to come to grips with the problem in February next.
When in that month the Disarmament Conference opens at Geneva, the line taken by the delegates from Great Britain will be in the direction, as Saturday's resolution put it, of " bringing about a real reduction in the armies, navies and air forces of the world." The speeches of the three Party leaders make that certain— unless, of course, there should be both a change of Government and a change in the leadership of the Conservative Party. Were Mr. Churchill to oust Mr. Baldwin, there is no saying what instructions lie might give : there are many Conservatives who are uneasy about this matter, though they say little. But that is a remote contingency. So far as can be foreseen the spirit of the resolution passed at the Albert Hall will animate the British delegation. But Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, who was in the chair, did well to remind the meeting that " several nations were going to the Con- ference not prepared to accept limitation even at the present high levels, still less to agree to a reduction." How can these nations—or, rather, the politicians who for the moment represent them—be persuaded to alter their minds ? If we were entrusted with the management of propaganda on this topic, we should look for greater attention to be paid to the argument that Disarmament will reduce taxes than to any other. The French arc reputed, not without cause, to be fond of " glory " in the military sense. But they are not fond of taxation. Nor do they like conscription, though they will put up with it so long as they believe it a necessary safeguard. If they can be shown that reduction of taxes and liberation of young men from military service is possible without risk,.they will be ready enough to jump at such a boon.
Already the Italian attitude has changed. Signor Mussolini's Foreign Minister renounces the idea that other nations must be regarded as possible enemies and is prepared to treat them as " effective friends." That rules out carrying guns to shoot them with. If only France and Germany could manage to see each other in that light, the prospects in February would be a great deal brighter. It would be wise on the Germans' part to give up their second " pocket battleship " which disturbs French susceptibilities and which could not really add to German security. Everything possible should be done to conciliate and reassure the French, though if all efforts failed, the making of an agreement without them would have to be seriously considered. That may be the only course open, for it looks as if public opinion here and elsewhere would demand that the Conference shall not be without result. Saturday's meeting inside the Hall was not surprising, was not (if we may say so without being misunderstood) specially significant except for the speakers. But the crowds outside the Hall were both a surprise and a portent. For the first time London has testified its desire for Disarmament on a large scale. Not many years ago a procession of enthusiasts for peace would have been hooted and probably broken up. That it aroused sympathy and approval was perhaps the most outstanding fact provided by the demonstration—unless it was the screech of evening paper contents bills about " stinkbombs " which no one in the Hall noticed or knew anything about I