TOPICS OF THE DAY.
NATIONAL TRAINING CENTRES—WHY SHOULD NOT LANCASHIRE LEAD?
W E published last week, and publish also in our issue • of to-day, several extremely interesting letters in regard to the question of universal training. As certain of our readers seem to have somewhat mistaken our position, we may as well state it again We have become convinced that it would be very greatly to the benefit of the nation, morally, physically, and intellectually, if the whole of the male population of these islands could undergo before they attain the age of twenty-one a period of at least three months' continuous military training of the kind which was undergone by the Spectator Experimental Company.—To give the lads of the nation the full benefit of this training the foundations ought first to have been laid by a course of physical training of a military character in all our schools, elementary, secondary, and public.—We advocate the adoption of universal training in the highest interests of the nation as a civil community, and not on military or Imperialistic grounds. We hold it to be the prime duty of the State to render its members good citizens, and we believe that such military training as we desire would tend to make our young men better citizens in every respect. We do not want to encourage the aggressive or brutal instincts in men ; but we hold, without the slightest doubt or misgiving, that a man cannot call himself "full a man," or have a complete sense of self-respect, self-reliance, and independence, unless be knows how to defend himself and his home and country in case of imminent need. The man who must rely solely upon others to protect him from attack and to preserve his liberty and his rights is not "full a man," be he Peer or peasant, Radical or Tory, Socialist or Individualist. But though we want every citizen to possess an elementary knowledge of how to defend his country if a great need should arise, and thus to attain complete manhood, we have no desire to force men to render military service of any kind against their will. Just as we oblige men to learn how to read and write, so we would oblige them to learn how to shoot and to act together. But having learned, we would not compel them to use their knowledge either of reading or writing or of military defence. Training should be obligatory, but service voluntary. We say this because we believe that there is plenty of patriotism in our people, and because we have not the slightest dread that any call to arms in a national danger will not always be answered. But we want it answered by men who have something better to offer the Motherland than a good intention. Voluntary war service is, we believe, infinitely better in quality than war service which is obligatory. The youth who when duty murmurs low "Thou must," replies "I will," is a far better soldier than he who is dragged un- willing into the firing-line. Again, the peculiar nature of our Empire makes universal service, as apart from universal training, entirely inapplicable. You cannot send men on compulsory service to India or any other part of our Colonies or dependencies against their will. For oversee garrisons we must have a professional Army, and those who are used to supplement that pro- fessional Army in oversee fighting must go voluntarily to the front. Even for home defence compulsion is not needed from the military point of view. Our Volunteers, if properly organised, as they should be, would give us ample security in respect of the risks against which the Navy cannot completely insure us. What we want universal training for is not to give us a military strength which we can get in other ways, but to improve the manhood of the nation, and to supply that something to our lads, in the richer quite as much as in the poorer classes, which is given by such a system as that which prevails in Switzerland, and which is incidentally achieved, though in company with many serious draw- backs, by the military systems of the Continent generally. To restate our position once more, our education in citizenship is at present imperfect, and requires just that finishing touch which is bestowed by the system we propose.
Did we possess an enchanter's wand, or were we armed with supreme legislative powers, we would un. hesitatingly begin a system of universal training from October 1st next, confident that the effect on our population would be of enormous benefit. Unfortunately, however, we do not possess such powers. Accordingly, to accomplish the end which we desire we must seek for other and less sensational means. Our practical object is first to get the British people to listen, and then to persuade them that the nation will gain very greatly by the adoption of universal training. Now all experience shows that it is impossible to induce our countrymen, however great and immediate the need' may seem, to swallow a revolution—for unquestionably what we propose is a revolution—at one gulp. They never, have done, and we believe they never will do, anything of the kind in a rapid or sensational way. They will insist in the future as in the past on making several bites at the cherry, and on trying many experiments before they adopt a new course of action. This being so, we must bow to the inevitable, and proceed on the lines along which change invariably takes place in England. The first thing is to get the British people to try the experiment, and then to make them carry the results of the experiment to their logical conclusions. Our readers have helped us to make a small beginning in the way of experiment. It now behoves others to follow on similar lines, and to carry on the work of converting the nation and making it realise the benefits which, though so obvious to us and those who think with us, are at present quite dark to the ordinary man. What we should like to see as a beginning would be Committees formed in several of our counties and big towns for establishing what we may call National Trainino. Centres, at which boys could be taken for three month; and trained as were the lads of the Spectator Experimental Company. Why should not groups of rich and public- spirited men, say, in London, Surrey, Kent, and Essex, or, again, in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Glasgow, and Edinburgh, subscribe the funds to do the initial work ? We believe that for a sum of £15,000 a year a thousand boys might annually receive a three months' training, for if there were continuous training of two hundred and fifty boys for three months at a time a good many economies might be effected in the Spectator system. Again, we do not think that it should be necessary to pay the lads for a three months' course. We believe, at any rate for experimental purposes, that it would be possible to find in any large town or county a quite sufficient number of boys who would themselves realise, or whose parents would realise for them, the immense benefit they would obtain in after life, whatever their calling, by having attended a National Training Centre. When men realised that going through such a school would greatly facilitate their getting good berths in civil employment, they would, we believe, be willing to go without pay, provided that they did not have any heavy out-of-pocket expenses, and that their clothes and food were provided for them.
In order to increase the utility of the experiments that we suggest, we should like to see them tried, not only in various parts of the country, but under varying conditions. For example, we should like to see some of the lads trained either under canvas or in huts, as were the Spectator Company, and also some trained under what-we may call " day-boy " conditions. That is, we should like to see the boys living at home, but going to their training for eight hours a day, as they go to work at a factory or in a mine. Again, we should like to see an experiment tried in which boys from the well-to-do classes would actually , pay, or partly pay, for their training, and would accordingly receive a rather higher standard of military education. We are fully alive to the advantage of mixing all classes together in a training centre ; but, at the same time, we do not see why in the voluntary stage of the movement which we are recommending the well-to-do classes should not pay for the very substantial benefits which they would • receive. There are plenty of boys whose fathers could well afford to pay a fee of -25 in order that they should obtain three months' training.
Should any group of patriotic men in any county or town in the kingdom (we attach great importance to the experiment being thoroughly localised) desire to try the experiment, we shall be most happy to place all the informa- tion we can at their disposal and to give them the full benefit of the experience of the Spectator Company. What county or town will claim the honour of leading the way ? After all, it is not a very great expenditure that is asked. If Lancashire, for example, which boasts, and so often rightly boasts, that what it thinks to-day England thinks to- morrow, should resolve to give the nation a lead, it could do so with the greatest ease. All that would be necessary Would be for a hundred Lancashire men—say thirty in Liverpool, thirty in Manchester, and forty in the rest of the County Palatine—to promise to give £150 a year each for two years. This would provide the funds for a thoroughly practical experiment, and would ensure the training of at least two thousand lads.
When once ten or a dozen of such training centres had been set up throughout the country, we should have good ground for approaching Parliament and asking, first for• Government inspection, and secondly for capitation grants for all lads who reached a certain standard of efficiency, on the ground that they had become better citizens. Further, the Government might very properly be asked to give a grant in respect of any boy who passed from the training centre into the Regular Army or Militia or Yeomanry. This would be a most reasonable proposal, for such a lad would not require to go to a depot, but might at once pass into the force of his choice. The voluntary association conducting the training centre would naturally ask to be paid by the Government a sum commensurate with what the Government would have spent in training a recruit. After experiments of this kind had been carried on for a couple of years or so throughout the country, the time would arrive to ask the nation to undertake the work, and to make the training as compulsory and as universal as is now the literary training given in our schools.
Before we leave the subject of universal training we desire to say a word as to Mr. Auberon Herbert's interesting letter published_ in our last issue. We agree with him that for action voluntary effort is better than compulsory ; but this principle, at any rate in our opinion, does not apply to education. Possibly Mr. Auberon Herbert may carry his voluntaryism so far as to consider that children should not be compelled to learn to read and write. Those, however, who, though in most matters they prefer voluntary to compulsory action, agree that it is wise to compel every one to have a literary education, must not be led away by what we venture to say is a false analogy. We admit that it is useless to try to compel men to make a good use of the arts of reading and writing, but we most wisely compel them to acquire those arts so that in after years they shall not be filled with remorse that they never had any schooling in their youth. Thus, as we have said above, though we would not compel men to fight even in the defence of their country, we would in their youth compel them to undergo a train- ing which later might enable them to give adequate help to the Motherland, and would certainly give them the power to prove themselves better citizens.