[To THE EDITOR OF THE " SPEOTATOR.1
SIR,—Many of your readers will, I am sure, look with interest, if not with anxiety, to the comment which you promise us on the offer of alliance held out to the Spectator last week by the National Service League, and upon the eloquent appeal against compulsion made by Mr. Auberon Herbert. It is not the purpose of this letter to discuss the issues raised as to whether compulsion in any form is either desirable, or, if it were desirable, can be regarded as practical politics; though I take it that the Spectator would draw a distinction between compulsory univercal training and com- pulsory universal military service.
Nor is the Spectator likely to lose sight of the fact that the Briton at least is at his best when upon work which he is not compelled to do, but has taken up from choice or sense of duty. To the disastrous effect of compulsion upon his common-sense, and even upon his character, one would have thought that the Educa- tion and Vaccination Acts bore ample testimony.
Certainly the National Service League is worthy of all support in desiring a nation in arms. The only doubt in the mind of many of us is as to the best means of attaining that end. The National Service League looks to propagandism and eventual legislation. Others prefer example and individual effort to any number of public meetings.
The National Service League lifts its eyes only to the distant mountains of the Ideal. In doing so it misses the significance of the nearer landscape. We have in our Auxiliary Forces all the elements of a national Army. Of its existence the League is contemptuously oblivious. Yet our existing national Army claims that, given wise encouragement and a sympathetic and separate administration, it can not only treble its numbers, but become what it has never yet been allowed to be.—a real Army and an effective instrument for war. It frankly admits its present ineffectiveness ; but it declares that the voluntary experiment has never been given a fair trial. The object of the National Service League is apparently to deny it that trial. Yet, as you very justly remind us, universality, if it is ever to come at all, must come through the success and popularity of the voluntary system. The inspiration which gives birth to a national Army is a national spirit, and this can never be created by legislation. Even as it is there is national spirit enough and to spare amongst working men. The first and most urgent need of our existing national Army is not men, but officers. Battalions which are strong in good officers have practically an unlimited supply of men. It is among the upper and middle classes of England that this national spirit is wanting. Hence the officers of the Auxiliary
Forces are deplorably deficient in numbers; in training they are hardly less so. A high standard of training can only be reached by competition for the honourable responsibilities of a commission, and competition can only result where the number of applicants exceeds the number of commissions. Once solve the problem of the supply of officers, and we shall have solved that of true efficiency. The difficulty is to persuade young men to be officers. Now the members of the National Service League are almost entirely drawn from the very class to which the Auxiliary Forces look for officers. Yet a comparatively small proportion of them are actively engaged as officers in promoting the efficiency of the national Army, or have sons who are so engaged. If an entente cordials is really to be arranged between the Spectator and the League, I submit that the first step should be taken by the members of the League,—all of whom should take commissions in the Auxiliary Forces. This would "give them something to do," as Mr. Haldane has put it of the country gentlemen, which would be far more valuable and of infinitely greater assistance to the realisation of their aims as a League than making speeches and writing letters in favour of legislation which shall force them to do compulsorily what they have hitherto shown no inclination to do of their own accord.
I am aware that a large proportion of the members of the League are retired military men, to whom therefore these remarks might be held not to apply. But even they would do well to emulate the patriotic actions of their fathers at the beginning of the second 'Volunteer movement. It is recorded that at an inspection of Volunteers held at Edinburgh in the early "sixties," a young officer on the Staff of the inspecting General noticed a private in the ranks wearing the Crimean medal. (Patronisingly) : "So you were in the Crimea, my man ? " "Yes. Sir." " Weally now, and in whose division did you serve P" ".My own, Sir," was the veracious and somewhat disconcerting reply ! At present Kipling's "strong men cheered in thousands while the striplings went to war" is far too accurate a descrip- tion of the men and methods of the National Service League for its programme to make real headway in the country
—I am, Sir, &c., VOLUNTEER FIELD OFFICER.
[We publish our correspondent's letter, but must not be held to associate ourselves with his strictures on the National Service League. Though our plan of campaign for attain- ing the ideal of universal training differs from that of the League, we fully recognise that the conversion of the British people on this question must be undertaken from many different sides and in many different ways.—En. Spectator.]