27 MARCH 1915, Page 5


SIR EDWARD GREY in his speech at Mr. Buchan's lecture on Monday said exactly the right things in exactly the right way on the origin of the war and the conditions of peace. As a rule, the people who busy themselves with the future settlement of Europe are inclined either to be too hard or too lenient to Germany. Sir Edward Grey kept the true middle course. Best of all,

he never forgot, as so many of our Pseificiets forget, that we have allies—partners whose share in the sacrifices of war are as great as or even greater than our own, and who will claim, and rightly claim, as great a share in laying down the terms of settlement as we shall. The crucial con- dition of the peace-making of the future is to keep faith with our allies, and to refuse, whatever the temptation, to play for our own hand or to allow ourselves to bo guided by ill-informed sentimentalists. If we are not loyal to our allies we shall be disgraced. We are glad to think, however, that there is no chance of any such disloyalty. The country fully appreciates what Russia and France have suffered and have accomplished, and there is no danger of jealousy of either Power. Again, there is not the slightest risk of the interests of the two smaller Powers, Belgium and Serbia, being neglected.

Sir Edward Grey began his speech by reminding his audience with whom the responsibility for the war rested. All the horrors of the last six months might have been avoided " by the simple method of is conference or a joint discussion between the Powers concerned, which might have been held in London, at the Hague, or wherever and

in whatever form Germany would have consented to have it." It would, Sir Edward Grey went on, " have been far easier to have settled by conference the dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, which Germany made the occasion for this war, than it was to get successfully through the Balkan crisis of two years ago." Germany knew well that we had no ulterior aims and were honestly anxious to keep the peace, and that no aggression by the group of Powers to which we belong would have been tolerated by us for a moment. Indeed, we only withheld from Germany one thing. " We would not give an unconditional promise to stand aside, however aggressive Germany herself might be to her neighbours." Every Power in Europe except Germany was ready to accept the conference. She refused every suggestion for settling the dispute in this way. "On her rests now, and must rest for all time, the appalling responsibility for having plunged Europe into this war and for having involved herself and the greater part of the Continent in the consequences of it." Sir Edward Grey went on to make a point which we have often made in these columns—that German statesmen followed exactly Bismarck's rule of choosing for war the moment when he thought the intended enemy was weakest and Germany was strongest :— " We know now that the German Government had prepared for war as only people who plan can prepare. This is the fourth time within living memory that Prussia has made war in Europe. la the Schleswig-Holstein war, in the war against Austria in 1888, in the war against France in 1870, es we now know from all the docu- ments that have been revealed, it was Prussia who planned end prepared these ware. The same thing has occurred again, and we are determined that it shall be the last time that war shall he made in this way."

Sir Edward Grey, if he had had the time, might have shown more in detail how a large group of circumstances seemed to point to the fact that Germany had reached her zenith of power, and that if she delayed the war her position must be relatively less strong than it was in August, 1914. It is always the thought of "Now or never !" which inflames the minds of aggressive politicians and makes them go to war. The circumstances which made Germany think that August, 1914, was " Now or never!" for her are worth setting down in order. (1) Russia had borrowed a large sum of money from France, and it was known that she was about to spend a considerable portion of that loan on strategic rail- ways in Poland—railways which would give to Russia transport advantages somewhat comparable to those which Germany has been enjoying during the last few months and for lack of which Russia has been suffering. " Therefore," concluded the German General Staff, " if we delay the fight till the new railways are ready in Russian Poland, we shall abandon a great advantage." (2) Germany was convinced that the naval situation was likely to become not more but less favourable to her. She had made her spurt in shipbuilding at the time when we, as a proof of good faith, reduced our own shipbuilding pro- gramme. We were, however, rapidly making good, and she realized that in another four or five years the relative positions held by us in August, 1914, would be altered, not to her advantage but to ours. (3) The Russian and French Fleets were being greatly strengthened, and before long Russia would once again be a first-class naval Power. (4) The Kiel Canal was finished last Juno. Till it was finished Germany would have been mad to move. As soon as it was completed, she felt that her naval strength had reached its highest point. (5) Austria-Hungary was still " an Empire in being," but it was by no means certain that she would continue to be so after the Emperor Francis Joseph's death. That event might easily be followed by grave disturbances between the Slavonic and non- Slavonic portions of the Empire. " We had better," argued the German General Staff, "get the fight over while the Austrian Empire is intact, and before the Slays break into revolt." (6) Italy, it was argued, would at any rate remain neutral if war was begun last August, but the tendency of Italy was distinctly in the direction of gradually detaching herself from the Triple Alliance. (7) Revelations in the French Senate showed that, though the Army of France was full of a fine martial spirit, her preparations for war were inadequate. But who could tell whether after these revelations a new Ministry might not come into power who would use the next two years to put the military house of France into thorough order ? (8) Britain last summer was dis- tracted by fierce internal quarrels which were only too likely to sterilize her. As soon, however, aa those internal difficulties were got over there seemed every prospect of a Government being returned to power which would be much less sympathetic to Germany than the exist- ing Liberal Government. Besides, it was quite conceivable that a change in public opinion might lead to the adoption in this country of universal military service on the Swiss model. (9) The rulers of Germany, though not actually afraid of a Socialistic movement, considered that the internal situation in Germany was as good as it could be from their point of view, and might very probably become less good.

All these considerations seemed to show that Germany would never be likely to be in a better, and might easily be in a worse, position for making war than she was in in August, 1914. When, then. Austria-Hungary, whether by accident or design will probably never be known, pro- vided a reasonably good cases bag in her quarrel with Serbia, the rulers of Germany determined that the hour had struck. Having so determined, they naturally, nay, inevitably, refused all forms of compromise. And here we must be just to them. Having decided that war was necessary for the welfare of their State, they could not yield to peace proposals, however reasonable. They looked at the whole matter from a very different point of view than that of Russia, France, or Britain—Powers whose rulers were desperately anxious to avoid war. That proposition holds good even if we adopt the German standpoint, and regard the Allies as at heart aggressive and anxious to pull down the German Empire. We cannot, of course, admit that any such desire existed, but even if it did the rulers of Britain, France, and Russia knew well enough that they were not prepared for war, that they could not fight at an advantage, and that, there- fore, the longer it was postponed the better for them. To no one of them did the whisper of "Now or never!" appeal. As far as they were moved by any ideas of state- craft, they were moved in the direction of—" Let us strive that war may be put of till we are better prepared for it."

The passage in which Sir Edward Grey dealt with the issue before the country and with the conditions of peace may be quoted in full:—

" Now what is the issue for which we are fighting P In due time the terms of peace will be put forward by our allies in concert with us—in accordance with the alliance that exists between us— and published to the world. One essential condition most be the restoration to Belgium of her independence, national life, and free possession of her territory, and reparation to her as far as repara- tion is possible for the cruel wrong done to her. That is part of the great issue for which we, with our allies, arracontending, and the great part of the issue is this—we wish the nations of Europe to be free to live their independent lives, working out their own form of government for themselves, and their own national development, whether they be great nations or small States, in fall liberty. This is our ideal. The German ideal—we have had it poured out by German professors and publicists since the war began—is that of the Germans as a superior people, to whom all things are lawful in the securing of their own power, against whom resistance of any sort is unlawful—a people establishing a domina- tion over the nations of the Continent, imposing a peace which is not to be liberty for every nation but subservience to Germany. I would rather perish or leave the Continent altogether than live in it under such conditions. After this war we and the other nations of Europe must be free to live, not menaced continually by talk of • supreme war lords,' and • shining armour,' and the sword continually 'rattled in the scabbard, and Heaven con- tinually invoked as the accomplice of Germany, and not having our policy dictated and our national destinies and activities con- trolled by the military caste of Prussia. We claim for ourselves and our allies claim for themselves, and together we will secure for Europe, the right of independent sovereignty for the different nations, the right to pursue a national existence, not in the shadow of Prussian hegemony and supremacy, but in the light of equal liberty."

We are certain that here Sir Edward Grey spoke the mind of the whole nation. There is not one of us who does not feel that a German domination would make Europe for Englishmen but a safe and dreary prison-house to which death or exile would be preferable ten thousand times over. It is the old issue of the Napoleonic Wars which Wordsworth saw so clearly. We must be free or perish.