TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE STATE OF THE ARMY.
WE can assure our readers that it is with no sense of pleasure that we direct their attention to the state of the Army. As a Unionist newspaper which feels obliged to attack a Unionist Government in regard to the Fiscal policy that they support, or which at any rate they make no serious attempt to disclaim or oppose, we are naturally loth to show antagonism to the Adminis- tration on questions outside the problem of the hour. Not only are we anxious to find, where possible, points of agreement with the Unionist Government, but we are also strongly desirous not to give any colour to the assertion that we attack the Government on other matters because we are opposed to them on the Fiscal question, and so are determined to find everything that they do injurious to the welfare of the country. As we have said, the very reverse is the case. We have again and again refrained from criticisms which ought strictly to have been made on their conduct of public affairs in order not to seem to pursue them vindictively. For example, though, like the majority of Englishmen who pay attention to military matters, we have felt the gravest anxiety during the past year in regard to the question of the artillery, we have said very little on the subject in order not to appear over-critical of the actions of the Ministry. In spite of the fact that the St. James's Gazette, an out-and-out Government and Chamberlain organ, has, with a commendable sense of public spirit, refused to be bound by its party allegiance, and has freely denounced the Administration in this re- spect, and in spite also of the fact that its example has been followed by other Unionist newspapers, we have hitherto only made one or two short allusions to the matter for fear that our attitude might be misunderstood.
Things, however, have reached such a point, not only as regards the artillery, but as regards the general con- dition of the Army, that we feel, even at the risk of our attitude being misunderstood and misrepresented, that we must speak out. The question is too serious for silence. We will take first the problem of the guns. To show the existing state of our artillery—a state which was fully known and realised two years ago—we will quote, not the words of any newspaper critic, but of a distinguished officer, General Turner. This is a summary of what he said when taking the chair at a meeting of the Army League on Tuesday. We quote from the Daily Chronicle:- " By the patriotic efforts of the Press, he said, the people had been impressed with the fact that our artillery was the worst in the world. As a writer had said lately, our guns, as compared with those used by Continental Powers, were as an Enfield gun to the latest repeater. They were outclassed by the guns in use in other countries in power, rapidity of fire, and accuracy of range. They dated from 1883, and were the guns which had been entirely outclassed in South Africa, where many of them had, in addition, been injured. The only guns we had which in any way approached in value those used by foreign Powers were the eighteen batteries of Erhardt guns, obtained by strategy during the South African War. The people of this country might be sure that the work of rearming would be carried out, but it would take two years. In the meantime we were standing on the brink of a precipice. If the artillery had to go into action with such guns as they possessed at present, the batteries would be destroyed before they could do any damage to the enemy."
We are, of course, fully aware that the answer to criticism such as this is that the cost of rearming the artillery is very great, and that it could not be under- taken till our finances, dislocated by the Boer War, had been placed in order • and further, that the Government are reported within the last few days to have given an order for nearly half the guns that will be required to rearm our artillery. Our reply to such a defence is that no pleas of economy ought to be allowed to prevail in a matter so absolutely vital to the safety of the Empire. The moment the inferiority of our guns was thoroughly realised, and a sound and effective gun had been chosen, as happened more than two years ago, the order for new guns, to be produced as rapidly as was possible by availing ourselves of every source of supply, should have been given. In our view, that is, no Secretary of State for War, and, indeed, no Prime Minister, should have been content to remain a day in office unless allowed to carry Government had been determined to pursue the most pacific policy possible in the region of foreign affairs. But what are we to say of the action of a Govern- ment which, instead of adopting a policy resolutely pacific, deliberately adopted two years ago a policy which, whether right or wrong, necessarily involves the risk of war, and of a war which, if it comes, will be on land and on the great scale. As a rule, the risks of war for the British nation are naval risks. The exception is a war with Russia, for Russia alone of the great military Powers is the land neighbour of the British Empire. A war with Russia does not mean war at sea, but war on the Indian frontier, where Russia is capable of opposing us, as the Japanese War shows, with half-a-million men supplied with modern artillery of a most effective type. Such a war may not, and, we are glad to believe, probably will not, result from the Japanese Alliance. Yet no one can deny that such a war is a possible outcome of that Alliance, and ought to have been contemplated by the Government when they made that Alliance, and in a sense no doubt it was so con- templated. But surely the men who thought it right and necessary to engage in an alliance involving those risks ought also to have realised that they must prepare for them, and especially in so elementary a way as providing us with a, moderately efficient artillery. One would have thought that even a child in such matters would have insisted on a modicum of preparation. The British Government are not armed with the power to compel military service, and therefore they cannot be blamed if they do not provide men in millions ; but at least they can supplement the small numbers of the Army with efficient guns. We have to be content to forego the big battalions, but the provision of big batteries and good batteries is only a matter of money. We can at any rate provide the money, and so ought to have the best and most numerous artillery in the world. Instead, a Government which adopts a daring and dangerous policy of foreign alliance leaves us with the least numerous and the worst. Even if the rumours that the Government have at last made up their mind to order half the modern artillery we need are true, we are still in grave peril. The guns cannot be in the hands of gunners instructed how to use them for at least a year, and before then the dangers of which we have spoken will, if they come at all, be upon us.
We have dwelt on the question of the artillery because it is the worst feature of the situation. Unfortunately, however, it by no means stands alone. Our dangerous plight in regard to our guns is reflected in the general condition of the Army. We say, without fear of contra- diction, that it is impossible at the present time to find any person competent to judge of the condition of our Army who does not feel the gravest anxiety in regard to it. The establishment of the Army Council has, we regret to say, not produced the good results which we, among others, hoped from it. We trusted that the Esher scheme would be so worked and administered that the Army would in future be controlled by a body almost exactly analogous to the Board of Admiralty. Instead of that, it is to be feared that we have obtained nothing but the old War Office plus an Aulic Council of bewildered, if well-meaning, Major-Generals. These transient and em- barrassed phantoms occasionally emit a wail of despair from their water-tight compartments, but of a united and coherent control over the Army such as the Board of Admiralty exercises over the Navy there is no sign. " Blank mis- givings of creatures moving about in worlds unrealised " is the dominant note of the Army Council. Meantime our well-meaning, and in intention patriotic, Secretary of State is busy, in his restless self-confidence, destroying the only machinery which we possess for raising large bodies of troops such as we should certainly need if the risks run by the Government in regard to the Japanese Alliance were to become facts, not possibilities. Here, again, let us say that we by no means wish to assert that they will become realities. On the contrary, we think on the whole that it is far more likely that we shall escape without war with Russia. The most that we contend is that the Government by their policy have run a very serious risk, and that therefore it is madness, considering the tremendous interests at stake, not to prepare to meet it. If that risk becomes a reality, we must at once be prepared to pour into India, not merely the three hundred thousand men we sent to fight the ninety thousand Boers in South Africa, but a much larger force. As the South African War showed, the only plan open to us for organising such reinforcements is to utilise the machinery for improvisation provided by the Militia and Volunteers. That machinery, bad as it may be, gave us at least a hundred and thirty thousand extra men to send oversee. At present the Secretary of State for War is destroying that machinery, and putting nothing in its place which will help us to improvise armies in time of war. One answer—and, as far as it goes, a coherent and logical answer—to our indictment in this respect is that we shall never again have to fight such a war as the South African War. If a foreign policy had been pursued which was directed towards preventing the out- break of any land war, though we should not have agreed that the policy of treating the Militia and the Volunteers as redundant was sound, we could have understood the action of the Government. What we cannot understand is the Government acting at the War Office on the hypothesis that we shall never fight another war like the South African War, and at the Foreign Office deliberately adopting a policy which exposes us to the risk of waging such a war. To put it shortly, when we entered upon the Japanese Alliance we ought at once to have made our artillery the best in the world, and so to have improved our Militia and the machinery generally for improvising armies that we could feel that if another war like the South African War came we should be able to do a great deal better in the matter of improvising troops than we did in 1901-2.
So serious do we consider the state of the Army that we hold that it will be the first duty of Members of Parlia- ment who care more for the national safety than for party to arraign the Government on this score at the very opening of the Parliamentary Session. It is quite possible that the official Opposition will have nothing to say to such a course of action, but such willingness to shelter the Government should not prevent patriotic men of both parties insisting that the utmost light shall be thrown on the real con- dition of the Army, and that something shall be done to remedy its worst defects while there is yet time.
FRANCE AND MOROCCO.