21 NOVEMBER 1914, Page 18

A TOPSY-TURVY WAR. T HE history of war is a history

of surprises. So much so that we should be wise always to expect the unexpected if only we knew—is this way of putting it clear ?—what not to expect. But all our subtlety is unequal to that task ; if we try to avoid the obvious logic of cause and effect, most of us still fail to be true prophets. For human affairs have a trick of solving themselves in the simplest manner just when we have become bitterly convinced of their eternal complexity. No war ever yet followed the course predicted for it—a fact which accounts for the anxiety of armed nations after every campaign to overhaul their methods or replace their armaments accord- ing to what are conceived to be the latest" lessons." Under- neath, no doubt, the principles of strategists have remained the same since the first army in the world tried to catch their opponents unawares and batter in their heads with cudgels. But endless diversity is spread over the fundamental uniformity, and this is true not only of military operations, but of all that conduct of quasi-warfare in which a nation by its politics, its economic expedients, and its social practice supports the primary business in the field. Both at home and abroad this war has already caused us to wonder whether we wake or dream, so different in many respects are the events from the anticipations. To begin with, there is a matter in which the Spectator has a, particular reason for being sensible of the topsy- turviness of the war—the treatment of the voluntary and compulyory principles. We have written on this sub- ject in another article, but may allow ourselves to dwell again on the paradox. For years we have been preaching the necessity of compulsory military training, and here we are to-day exhausting every expedient and ransacking our imagination in order to persuade the Government to save the voluntary principle ! They have chosen the voluntary principle for the war. " So be it," say we • " don't let us swap horses while crossing the stream. Let us work the voluntary principle for all it is worth. We believe with you that the thing can be done while the country is in its present spirit. We can talk about compulsion again when the war is over." But do the Government work the volun- tary principle for all it is worth ? Not at all ; they act as though they desired to be able to point to its failure. They might, to all appearance, be working secretly for its downfall while praising its soundness with their lips. We hasten to admit that they are certainly unaware of the inadequacy of their plans for saving voluntary service, which are of course thoroughly well meant. And no doubt they know very well that if their present effort in scientific recruiting fails they must be driven back upon compulsion. But the fact remains that if that should happen they will not be able to say that many ardent members of the hated National Service League did not come forward to beg them to save voluntaryism and earnestly to lay before them plans for doing it! Another inversion of the usual state of things is the secretiveness about the war which the Government oppose to the demand of the Unionists for greater publicity. In a general way the onlooker might say that Con- servatives are temperamentally inclined to admit the validity of pleas for reticence on all State affairs, while Radicals think publicity so valuable in itself that many of them would even drive the most delicate negotiations of diplomacy into the open. But are the representatives of these principles true to type just now ? Not at all. Mr. Asquith holds out no hope that we shall ever be allowed to hear through unofficial channels much more about moving accidents by flood and field, about hair-breadth scapes i' the imminent deadly breach, and so forth, than this sort of thing : " The — Battalion of the — Regiment while in action at — was surprised by an overwhelming force of the enemy estimated at Owing to the coolness of — Company in holding their fire at the critical moment, the remaining companies were enabled to open an enfilading fire on the Regiment of the enemy's cavalry. Through the recoil of the cavalry the whole attack- ing force was hurled back. The leader of this magnificent feat of arms, who afterwards received on the field the compliments of General —, commanding the — Divi- sion, was —." The Unionists do not ask for the publi- cation of any news that would be of the least service to the enemy. They ask for the publication of facts which would be of service to ourselves, in firing the minds of young men at home with splendid examples and glowing deeds. Lord Curzon, Mr. Walter Long, and others have advanced so far along the path which Radicals used to invite them to follow as to believe that no harm can be done by publish- ing details of achievements which were well known to the enemy directly they were accomplished at his expense. In determining what degree of publicity is desirable a balance has, of course, to be struck. Publicity may do harm in some ways,but it will do great good in others. We should make our rules in accordance with the expectation whether the good or the bad will preponderate. For ourselves, we do not believe that the absence of independent witnesses is desir- able. We think it wholly undesirable. We remember that in the past much criticism which enabled the country to see its way more plainly came from men who were only camp-followers. At present a party of the most reputable correspondents, who were chosen by the War Office to be accredited to the Army when the time came, are still detained in London. Other correspondents, without any sort of sanction from the War Office, roam about in the rear of the Army. What has happened is that the War Office have taken the cream off the milk and thrown it down the sink, and allowed the skim-milk to be consumed by the public. It is not enough to say : " Publicity does harm, therefore publicity must be stopped." One might say, in that vein of logic, that because the transport of food delays an army on the march the army must go without food. As though to make the topsy-turviness complete, Russia, the home of stern, unbending ordinances and Draconian penalties, exercises a more indulgent censorship than any one of her allies.

A third inversion of what was commonly expected in the days before the war is the almost complete freedom from molestation of our overseas trade, together with the belief, held by serious persons, that a raid upon Britain by a German force is quite probable. It used to be said : " The Navy cannot be expected to watch all the trade routes thoroughly, and the injury to our commerce will, of course, be immense. But, at all events, there will be no chance of an invasion at home. After the first naval fighting in the North Sea that anxiety will be removed for ever." But what has happened ? The damage to our mercantile shipping has been so slight that the supply and price of necessaries have scarcely been affected. Mean- while the belief that the Germans may seriously attempt a raid arises from a fact that was hardly taken into con- sideration before the war. That fact is the failure of their grand strategic plan by land. Their failure makes them desperate, and it is in the desperate search for some new scheme that they may embark upon an adventure that has certainly little chance of succeeding. And so we find ourselves seriously contemplating the possibility of in- vasion while the Bank Rate, which was to have soared to some astounding figure, remains obstinately normal, while the banks, which were to have shut their doors, remain serenely and confidently open, and while the place of the bread riots has been taken by satisfactory returns in nearly all forms of employment. We might pick out other instances of topsy-turviness, and no doubt our readers would be able to think of still more that have not occurred to us. But we will mention only two. At this moment there is at the front an inversion of the result which had been generally foreseen from the meeting of the highly trained German troops and our own Territorials. The Territorial, like every other soldier who has been subjected to it, has a deep respect for the German artillery ; lie also admires the wonderful bravery of the Germans, and he admits that, when put to the proof, the German Army is still the most remarkable military machine in the world ; but he certainly does not discover the inferiority of his own training to that of the individual German infantryman. It may be that he makes up for short training by a better military instinct and more self-reliance. But, however that may be, he knows that he is as good a man as his oppo- nent, and probably rather better. The inversion becomes even more curious when, as is happening at certain points of the German line, raw untrained boys and middle-aged men who have lost their physical buoyancy are launched against the British line. What has become there of the picture of the " highly trained Continental Army " in conflict with " British amateurs " ? The amateurishness has somehow got transferred to the other side. Our last point, which we think is curious enough to mention, is that the benevolent Radicals and the stony-hearted Unionists have changed parts in dealing with the grants to the families of soldiers. Who are eager to remind us that strict justice is preferable to sentimental prodigality in all financial affairs ? Not the Opposition leaders, but the authors of the long social programme of doles and pensions.