20 MAY 1905, Page 4

T HE more we consider Mr. Balfour's speech the more convinced

are we that, in spite of its brilliancy and suggestiveness, it constitutes a not inconsiderable danger to the State, and that the cause of Imperial defence, for which all thoughtful men are deeply concerned, would have been better served had it been cast in a different mould. Frankly, we regret that the speech was made, and fear its consequences, though we readily acknowledge that the Prime Minister's intention was in no way to create an oratorical sensation, but solely to keep the nation informed in regard to matters of which he considers they ought to have better knowledge. Our regret at the tone and mental attitude of the speech is not in the least diminished by the fact that we are inclined to assent to the general propositions laid down by Mr. Balfour, and to hold. that they are theoretically incontrovertible. Our reason for regarding the speech as dangerous is that it will be taken by the general public to mean so much more than it really imports. Words have been described as " dangerous and dreadful " instruments. Still more " dangerous and dreadful " are abstract propositions in the hands of the general public. They are certain to push them too far, and if they are pleasant and comfort- able per se, to accept them with a kind of intoxication. Nothing is more delightful to the " man in the street " than to draw a series of strictly logical conclusions from a set of high-sounding premises. For example, we bear of people talking of the profound relief they have derived from Mr. Balfour's speech, and about the happy consequences that will flow from it, just as if the speech had altered the facts of Nature, and could be felt and accepted like something tangible. Wise men know that this is the perennial danger of the logical process applied to human and political affairs. We must use logic, but since every logical structure rests on an ultimate major and minor premise hidden somewhere in the foundations, and since also the slightest flaw in those premises will render the whole building insecure, and finally, since the more con- clusions we derive from the original syllogism—i.e., the higher we build—the greater becomes the danger, wise men are most careful not to push logical construction too far. They fear a hidden flaw in the foundations. It was this that made Burke declare that nothing absolute can be affirmed on any moral or political question. It is this that makes business men, though they act on business principles, most careful not to press logic too far, or to carry out such principles to the bitter end. But to scatter broadcast general propositions in regard to a matter of such supreme moment as national defence, as did Mr. Balfour in his speech, is to invite, nay, to incite, the public to push logical construction to extremes, and to rear a vast structure which may have a flaw in its foundations, a flaw sufficient to ruin the whole Empire, though it cannot at the moment be detected.

We must never forget that in all human affairs there are things unseen as well as things seen. No doubt we can only argue about the things seen, " for knowledge is of things we see," but if we are prudent we do not leave out of account altogether things unseen. We make, as far as we can, provision for the unknown factors that may arise. It is for this reason that the Spectator has always deprecated the notion of trying to lay down hard-and-fast rules in regard to our military and naval affairs, and of saying that we can only want our Army or our Navy for this and that emergency, and that therefore we will prepare to meet those emergencies and no other. No doubt we must take into consideration our visible needs, but we must also remember that it may prove disastrous to conclude that the needs visible for the moment are the only needs. Therefore we have never assented. to the proposition that we should let the answer to the question, " What is our Army needed for? " be our solo criterion in the matter of Imperial defence on the military side. A practical example of the folly and futility of such a proceeding is only some three years old. It is to be found in the history. of the Boer War. If in the spring of 1899 our best and wisest advisers, military and civil, had sat down to consider all the possible things which the British Army might be called upon to do, would any man among them have been found to declare that the British Govern- ment must be prepared to place and maintain in South Africa an army of close on half-a-million men,—an army, that is, some six or seven times larger than that which Britain had ever before placed in the field ? No one, we feel certain, would have ventured to calculate on such an eventuality. Yet before a year had passed we were well on the way to placing an army of half-a-million in South Africa. In other words, if the conference of experts had been asked to say definitely whether we could ever want half-a-million men in South Africa, and if these experts had said " No," as they certainly would have said, and if after this apparently undeniable truth had been proclaimed to the country, we had followed it to its logical conclusion in regard to preparations, we should have been in far greater difficulties even than we were when the war came. Who knows, in spite of Mr. Balfour's speech, that Fate is not even now " laid up in an auger- hole" ready to rush out upon us, and show once more the futility of general propositions ? We cannot, of course, give any illustration to enforce our argument, for we, no more than Mr. Balfour, can see the unseen. That, however, does not convince us that two years hence, or even a year hence, we may not be engaged in a struggle which will require the British Army to be used in circumstances which no human being has as yet contemplated, or could. be expected to contemplate at the present moment.

But though we feel so strongly the danger of laying down general propositions and acting upon them, we fully realise that, the world being what it is, we must to a certain extent contemplate contingencies, and make plans and preparations to meet them. All we insist on is that such analysis as we can make of potential dangers shall not be considered. final, and that, instead of encouraging the public to regard our working propositions as absolute, we should show them that they are mere points of con- venience, and must not be accepted as finalities. We must not be like the scientific general who declared. that the enemy could not come by a certain road, and therefore refused to place even a corporal's guard upon it, and so had his camp surprised. Instead, we must say We are very unlikely to meet an enemy under any conditions except the following. Considering, however, the immensity of the interests involved, we must be ready to meet even apparently impossible emergencies.' In order to avoid ourselves falling into the ditch of abstract propositions, let us hasten to say that preparations to meet apparent impossibilities need not, and must not, be of a kind which would. lessen our power to meet the obviously possible.

We must not lose touch with realities. What we have been saying is only, and can only be, valuable if it leads up to specific practical propositions. We want a system of Imperial defence which shall be ready, not merely to meet such emergencies as Mr. Balfour and his colleagues can conceive at a given moment, but to meet beyond these other emergencies which are now invisible. This illogical proposition—for such we admit it to be— means when translated into action that we must organise our naval and military affairs to the highest pitch of power compatible with the financial safety of the nation.— It is useless for a man to save money so hard that he ruins his health, and so the power to make it.—Now, put into plain language, this means that we must have a Navy so powerful, so well disposed, and so elastic that it will be able to secure the command of the sea, and protect us from invasion in the case of any combination of Powers. In regard to military affairs we must not be content to say that the most we can ever want is to send so many thousand men to India, and to provide so many thousand. Volunteers here in ease of a raid. We should rather say :—` We shall very likely want so many thousand extra men for India, and so many thousand Volunteers here to stop a raid. But this by no means exhausts the potential calls on our military forces. It is conceivable that we may have such a call as the United States had during their rebellion,—a call for every available man to save the nation. We are confident that such a call would be responded to ; but we are not sure that the response would be of any use unless we are possessed of two things,—i.e., reserve stores of rifles, artillery, and ammunition sufficient to equip an extra million of men, and a male population suffi- ciently trained in the use of the rifle and in the elements of drill to make their patriotic offers to fight at once available.' This means that the Army that we need is the Army which we have so often endeavoured to sketch in the Spectator. It means a regular professional Army of about the strength that we possess to-day. It means a Militia and Yeomanry encouraged and improved by better handling at the War Office and with appropriate Reserves. It means a Volunteer Force in which every man shall be admitted who desires to be admitted, and in respect of whom his corps shall receive a grant suitable to the amount of time and trouble he can give to training. It means, finally, the education of every youth in the nation up to the age of seventeen in physical training of a military character, including the use of the rifle. With compulsory service the State should have nothing to do. She only wants willing hands. What, however, she has a right to do, and ought to do, is to make it impossible for any man in the hour of her med to say to her : I am ready to fight for you and die for you, but as you never took the trouble to give me any instruction in the art of war, I can only offer you a maimed and useless service.'

This is the Army that we need. This is the Army which will safeguard the nation, whether Mr. Balfour's assur- ances that invasion is impossible turn out to be true or false. It is an Army which will enable us to meet a raid or a real invasion, or at a great Imperial crisis to pour troops oversea as we poured them during the Boer War, but to pour them far more effectively. It is an Army designed not merely to meet visible contingencies, but those which are for the moment invisible. It organises, for what- ever work it may be required, the willing manhood of the nation. More we cannot do, but less we dare not do, for we shall be unworthy of ourselves if we are content to be lulled into a sense of false security by the windy consolations of abstract propositions. Let us remember that Mr. Balfour has altered nothing by declaring that we cannot be invaded, and that the painful and wearisome task of securing the safety of the Empire by adequate military preparation still lies before us.