TOPICS OF THE DAY.
A BADGED NATION.
WE are not ashamed to proclaim ourselves Coalitionists, and not Coalitionists malgri eux, but on the merits of the present Administration. If we wished them ill we should leave the question of compulsory service in Ireland alone till it had festered into a really serious problem. We want them to take it up now, and not to incur the discredit which they will get if they are forced into adopting it by the agitation which we foresee as not only possible but certain. In another two or three months the pressure of the demands of the Army and of the War Office, backed up by a resolute public opinion, will be enormously intensified. The combing out " process, which is already causing a great deal of disturbance and heart-burning, will have to be applied with far greater ruthlessness than now. By the middle or end of January next we shall be literally taking the last hundred thousand of the able-bodied young men, and taking them at what will be felt to be a vast cost. We do not suggest for a moment that there will be any attempt to prevent these last hundred thousand being taken. We are perfectly certain that there will be nothing of the kind. John Bull will acquiesce, but his acquiescence will be some- thing more than sombre. He is not going in this case to acquiesce without a murmur, and the murmur will take this form : " Of course if you say you must have these last hundred thousand, you must have them. But why. in the name of thunder do you funk these d—d Irish politicians ? Why are we to have the skin taken off us here while at least a quarter of a million men could be justly got from Ire- land It is all very well to say that to get a quarter of a million men from Ireland would require a hundred thousand soldiers in rounding them up. We know better. If you cannot do it, we will find somebody who can."
Do not the Government understand that when the country is in that ugly mood, as we assert it will be in the middle of January next, there will be plenty of people here ready and eager to utilize the situation against them ? The Govern- ment are, in our opinion, a good Government, but they are singu- larly innocent if they fail to recognize the fact that they have many and very bitter enemies, and that there are persons here who are positively itching to show their ability to do the Government job, and do it a great deal better, and so forth. In these circumstances nothing would be easier for those who want to pull down Mr. Asquith and the Coalition than to get up a newspaper agitation in favour of justice to England and Scotland and for making Ireland do her fair share in the common work. All that they will have to do will be to ask one or two plain questions. Why should Ireland not bear her share of the burden ? Why should we carry it all ? Will not Irishmen benefit as much as we shall by beating the Germans and saving the Empire ? " No doubt the defenders of Irish exemption and of a badged nation will have what will seem to them a good Parliamentary answer to the questions, but we venture to say that it will not be an answer capable of stemming a popular agitation or of satisfying the man in the street. It will gain no better assent than do the specious arguments used by some Government officials in favour of their own exemption, or by local tribunals when they arbitrarily decide that this or that man need not do his bit in the fighting- line, but has a right to let other people carry the load for him while he stays at home and makes himself rich. And note here that if such a newspaper agitation in favour of compulsory service for Ireland is started by one group of newspapers, it will be almost a necessity for others to follow in their footsteps. We do not for a moment suggest that our newspapers as a rule slavishly adopt the views of their readers, but undoubtedly there are certain points on which popular newspapers cannot afford to neglect what for the sake of argument we will call the prejudices of their supporters. And be sure this will be one of them. For a time the Radical Press may attempt to take the line that we owe the Irish people exemption because we have done them such wrong in the past, &c., &c., or because it is not worth while to create so much disturbance for such com- paratively small results ; but we venture to say that these arguments will soon fall before the insistent questions: "As the Irish will benefit by the destruction of the German horror as much as we shall, why should we have to make all the sacrifices ? Why should we have all the kicks and they all the ha'pence ? Tell us that. Is the Irishman's blood so pure that it must not be shed like -the blood of common -Englishmen or Scotsmen, Canadians or Australians, New Zealanders or South Africans ? Why should one part of the Empire alone be allowed to pick and choose whether it will help the Empire, or help its enemies by standing by with a smile of contempt at the silly fools who are sweating and dying for them in the trenches ? ' When such questions are widely put, as they will be, people will begin to look a little deeper, and to meet the second and much more powerful argument founded, not upon some supposed right of the Irish to win the slacker's consolation stakes without even running for them, but upon that of expediency. This argument in effect says that the Irish of course ought to serve, but that in the circum- stances they are too strong for us. It is not worth while to force them to play their part. Then people will begin to remember that just the same sort of arguments were used in the Civil War in America when the Governor of the State of New York, backed by Irish politicians, the Irish mob, and the Roman Catholic Irish hierarchy in New York encouraged by an Irish Archbishop, declared that they would not have the Draft in their State. Plenty of people tried to persuade Mr. Lincoln that on grounds of expediency it was not worth while to stir up a second civil war in New York. Lincoln, however, would not yield to such arguments, but applied the Draft. He was met by a New York rising. He put it down, and after that he had no more trouble with his Irish recalcitrants. In fact the farce was played out to the end, including a con- gratulatory speech by the Irish Archbishop to the remains of the Irish mob after two Pennsylvanian regiments had done with them. In this speech the Archbishop, though he was not willing to preach actual treason, congratulated his fellow-Irishmen on the martial courage they had displayed in their scrap with the troops ! Curiously enough, it was not only in the North that the Irish refused to render military service. They resisted war service in the North, partly on the ground that they were in favour of the Southern States being allowed to claim Home Rule and national independence, and also because they were in favour, as no doubt they were, of the institution of slavery. Yet oddly enough, the Irish- men in the South were just as determined not to fight as were those in New York. In both cases the Irish patriots who, as they would have said, had fled to America to avoid the tyranny of England's cruel red, vehemently claimed their right not to be conscripted on the ground that they were British subjects. That naturally was not a very popular move, and one of the Southern newspapers thus castigated the Irish who Claimed exemption :— " We can conceive nothing more disgraceful than the conduct of Irish- men, for example—but wo trust they are few—who have been cursing the British Government ever since they could talk, who have emigrated to this country to escape the British Yoke, but who now run to an English Consul and profess themselves subjects of Queen Victoria in order to evade their duties in the land of their adoption " In this context it is worth while noting the statement which has been made in the Press during the past week, that it is the Irish vote which has secured a narrow majority against the application of compulsory service in the Commonwealth of Australia. Nobody is going to impugn the Irishman's physical courage, but apparently he has a dislike of fighting unless there is a preliminary fight to make him fight.
And now let us say once again that if the Government do not take up and face this question of applying compulsory service to Ireland they will be liable in a very few months' time to have it forced upon them by newspaper agitation. In such a case as we are dealing with the Government's position cannot help being shaken by what will appear to be; and in a sense no doubt will be, a triumph, for newspaper agitation. But a Government cannot be continually goaded into strong courses by irresponsible newspapers without a great weakening of their influence. If the problem could be solved by doing nothing we personally might be willing to pardon this application of what might be defended as an example of the higher opportunism. But it will not be solved by doing nothing. The agitation is bound to come, and if it does come the Government are bound to yield to it.