5 AUGUST 1916, Page 4


THE LATEST GER MAN BARBARISM. THE judicial murder of Captain Fryatt, the master of the Great Eastern steam-packet Brussels,' involves an even more serious issue of law than the sinking of the ' Lusitania,' if it be not absurd to talk of law in a region where the Germans have made laws to cease. For if the Germans act thoroughly upon their preposterous contention that the captain of a merchantman who defends himself is a ,franc-tireur, and that he may therefore legally be executed, it is obvious that neutrals who attempt to protect themselves will also forfeit their lives. From the German logical point of view it would even seem that the self-defence of a neutral would be the greater crime, because, though his country was not at war, he nevertheless rushed in to commit an act of irregular warfare. To understand where the German argu- ment leads to is only to appreciate more fully the almost incredible clumsiness. of the excuse. What the Germans have done is to take the law and custom which govern land warfare, transfer them bodily to the sea, where they not only have never applied but have been expressly admitted by the Germans themselves not to apply, and then exclaim in effect : " See how the law supports our action I " It has been an immemorial right of merchantmen to protect them- selves from attack at sea. It is a right recognized by all civilized countries. Germany herself in her Naval Prize Regulations, issued just before the war, laid it down that even when an enemy merchantman forcibly resists search the crew are to be treated as belligerents. Here are the words :- " If an armed enemy merchant vessel offers armed resistance to the right of visit, search, and capture, this is to be broken down by all means possible. The enemy Government is responsible for any damage thereby caused to the ship, cargo, and passengers. The crew are to bo treated as prisoners of war. The passengers are to be liberated 'micas it is proved that they have taken part in the resistance."

The action of the Germans was even more infamous than this fact would make it appear, because by their methods of sinking merchantmen without warning they had given the masters of ships no opportunity to surrender even if they had wanted to do so. The alternative which they now present to merchant skippers amounts precisely to this : " If you do nothing to defend yourself, we shall sink you without asking any questions ; but if you try to defend yourselves, we shall execute you if we catch you." Surely only a German could argue with a straight face that, after all the laws of the sea had been disregarded, and non-combatants had been sent to the bottom before they were even aware of an enemy's presence, an effort to save oneself from this fate must be regarded as a crime punishable by death. The excuse that a submarine is different from other ships of war is too silly and hollow to be considered seriously. If a merchantman has a legal right to defend herself from attacks above the water, she obviously has an equal right to defend herself from attacks under the water. The Germans never disputed this till their doctrine of necessity required them to dispute it. Captain Fryatt was in fact only one more victim of the German criminal method of warfare. Tho interposition of some technical steps, such as the process of law which was called a trial, makes no difference to that fact. The primary and original cause of his death, as of that of hundreds of other brave and devoted non-combatants, was that Germany violated all considerations of humanity, all international law and custom, and all the Hague Conventions in her use of her submarines. Captain Fryatt acted as any man with a heart as stout and a head as cool as his would have acted in the circumstances. He tried to save the lives of his crew and passengers. The Germans answer that the commander of the submarine never intended to sink the Brussels.' Even if that be true, how was Captain Fryatt to know it t The Germans had given him every reason in the past to expect that he would be sunk as the Sussex ' and hundreds of other vessels had been sunk. He did what his difficult duty required him to do. An enemy with any spark of chivalry would have admitted this. But the German rulers are without chivalry, as they are without honour or an elementary sense of justice. They have com- mitted a crime which can never be forgotten or forgiven. When Napoleon was guilty of judicial murders many of his countrymen deplored his acts ; and Europe in exacting the penalty from him remembered his barbarities against individuals, such as the Duo d'Enghien and the Bavarian Palm, as counts of equal enormity with his wholesale plans for the destruction of nations. Judging from the German newspapers, we fear that there are few Gerreene who say that their rulers have blundered. But elsewhere the deed is registered against those rulers. The day of restitution will come, be it late or soon.

There is no doubt that the Germans meant the murder of Captain Fryatt to be an advertisement to the world. By means of it they say, not only to British seamen but to neutrals, that they demand absolute immunity for their submarines to do as they please, and that the penalty for resistance to this decree is death. It is simply a fresh attempt to break down the blockade. The life of Captain Fryatt has been a pawn in the policy. The effect upon neutrals will be nothing, we should think. They have hitherto displayed a passive courage in the face of assassination, and they will probably continue quietly as before. The effect upon our British seamen will certainly be nothing, unless it be that their resolution to save their crews from the power of people who shrink from no brutality will be sterner than ever before. The spirit of the Mercantile Marine has been one of the glories of the war. It will not wilt from what is in reality a fresh incentive to heroism.

It has been vehemently suggested that now is the time for the British Government to resort to reprisals. The ideal of some people seems to be a sort of lex talionis—an eye for an eye, and a life for a life. In the Daily Mail of Monday Lincoln was spoken of as having successfully asserted the policy of reprisals when he declared that for every soldier of the United States killed by the Confederates " in violation of the laws of war " a rebel soldier should be executed. Lincoln's words, if we are not mistaken, were essentially meant as a declaration of the fact that he held the life of a coloured man to be of equal value with the life of a white man. Dire threats had been uttered by the Southerners against coloured men taken in arms. So far as Lincoln was not preoccupied by this principle, he was merely thinking, we believe, of the improper treatment of Federal prisoners by the Southerners, and he stated a policy of reprisal far in advance of the facts in order to point the culmination to which the maltreatment of prisoners led, and by this means to awaken the Southerners to the frightful gravity of the practices which had occurred in some military prisons. A man must be judged by his whole character, the spirit in which his policy is framed, and the con- text in which his intentions are announced. Nothing inclines us to believe that Lincoln would have taken the life of an inno- cent man because of the fault of some other persons beyond the reach of punishment. Everything he ever did and ever said compels us to believe the exact contrary. He was in a continual state of disputation with his generals because he wanted to beg off men—even proved spies and traitors and cowards—who had been condemned to death by Courts- Martial. No one was ever killed with Lincoln's consent as a reprisal. After the war a Southerner with a German name was hanged by the Federals for cruelty to Federal prisoners, and another would probably have been hanged if it had been possible to catch bun. But it may be said that if Lincoln even went so far as to assert the principle of reprisals, though with no intention of putting it into practice, we might sue- cessfully do the same. We do not agree in any shape or form. Lincoln knew his countrymen in the South ; we know the Germans. The Germans, as we have found, stop at no horror, and we should be compelled, if we acted upon our word, to proceed from penalty to penalty in the competition till we reached a point beyond which we could not pass. In a com- petition in barbarism with Germany we should be beaten every time. The German authorities who killed Miss Cavell would not hesitate to kill women. Is it conceivable that we could respond f Can it be supposed that British officers would lead a German woman, who had never harmed any one in her life, out of a British detention camp, place her against a wall and shoot her 1 It is, of course, quite unthinkable. The rifles would drop from the hands of the firing party When the competition had proceeded for some time we should desist, having achieved nothing but the sacrifice of some innocent lives and our own degradation. Knowing the Germans as we do, we recognize that if we gave them the chance they would certainly force us to such a competition in barbarity— justly confident that our reprisals would soon break down—if they thought it would serve even a minor point in their policy. Where State interests were concerned they would regard it as a duty not to consider the lives of their own people here. Every one must perceive what reprisals against Germany would mean. Therefore we say that for any one who knows what Lincoln's life was to cite his sanction for the kind of policy that is now proposed against Germany is an outrage. Mr. Asquith took the right line in saying in the House of Commons that we should do our best to punish the German criminals, " whoever they might be and whatever their station." He distinguished very properly between the authors and the agents of the crimes. The men who actually committed the crimes may be angels of light compared with the men who imagined and ordered them. " By God, the men that did the deed were braver men than they " As regards other reprisals, there are several possible ones which are not open to any moral objection. It has been suggested that there should be a decree of non-intercourse between the Allies and Germany for a definite period. Again—here the proposal has the advantage of being an immediate reprisal—it has been suggested that we should confiscate German property in Britain. We do not know what the balance of Gern4an property here is over British property in Germany. If the balance is heavily enough against the Germans, confiscation might be advisable. It is a question of expediency rather than of ethics. We should not ourselves hope for very much from the plan, but at least it would be open to the German Government to compensate their own people for losses. There can be no compensation for the loss of a man's life or health, if that should be the outcome of reprisals. It is odious that the crime of one man should be visited on another who is innocent. We do not say that all reprisals should be ruled out in the unprecedented conditions which German crime has created, but at least let us inflict no suffering that is not remediable. Let us put our hands to nothing that is in itself base and degrading. We should have nothing against our name that does not match the fairness of our cause.