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Our Wars page 3


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During more than fifty years of the eighteenth century Great Britain was at war with some of her neighbours. The Continental powers fought with each other so habitually that Europe scarcely ever knew the joy of unbroken peace. These wars were ordinarily waged in quarrels which were of no real concern to the European people. They sprang out of questions personal to their rulers. What family or what member of a family was to occupy a certain throne? What advantage could a prince take of his neighbour's weakness to add to his own possessions T What increase of power could monarchs allow any one of their number to gain? Such were the occasions of strife in which the men of Europe uncomplainingly shed their blood and wasted their substance. Nor was it customary that these selfish and ignoble contentions should be confined to the disputants with whom they originated. The monarch who was about to inflict invasion, or to endure it, sought to strengthen himself by alliances. And so it happened that when two kings led their subjects out to mutual destruction, the flame quickly spread, and other kings with their victim people fell, as an expected thing, into their places on this side or on that.

A survey of the wars which Great Britain fought during the eighteenth century, in the attempt to settle questions which were to her nearly always insignificant, is mournfully suggestive of wasted resources and needless suffering.

In 1702 we allied ourselves with Austria, Holland, and many smaller states, and we declared war against Spain and France. It was our high purpose to prevent the grandson of the King of France from becoming King of Spain. We fought for twelve years to do that. All western Europe, from the borders of Russia to the Atlantic, toiled with us or against us in the vain and bloody enterprise. And after all, the French prince was King of Spain, and Europe was not perceptibly a greater sufferer than she would otherwise have been.

In 1715 and 1745 we were obliged to fight in civil war against ill-advised persons who desired to bring back to the throne the rejected house of Stuart.

In 1741, England and Austria went to war against France and Prussia, in order to decide a question about the succession to the Austrian throne. We fought for five years before wę obtained the decision which we desired.

After a short breathing-time, we resumed our accustomed toil. In 1756, leagued with Prussia, we entered upon a seven vears' war against France, Russia, Sweden, and Austria. We had no apparent interest in the quarrel, but Prussia was in danger, and had persuaded us to come to her rescue. The population of the country was then twelve or thirteen million, and their commerce was small. This war cost us eighty-two million sterling.

A short war with Spain might almost be deemed a favourite pastime of the statesmen of the eighteenth century. In 1718, 1727, 1739, and 1762 we waged such wars. We fought altogether seven times with Spain during the century.

In 1775 we took up arms to suppress the rebellion of the American colonies. It was not till the war had continued for eight years that we desisted from that enterprise. In addition to the revolted colonists, we arrayed against us France, Holland, and Spain. The cost of this war was close on one hundred million sterling. It was mainly borrowed, and we have paid ever since, and will long continue to pay, three million annually for our stubborn refusal to permit American independence.

Early in 1793 we began to wage against France a war which paused twice for a few months, but did not cease till 1815.

Must we deem this bloody century to be representative of the future, as it too surely is of the past? Are men to stumble on for ever in this path of mutual destruction? Or dare we hope that even now the dawn of a better time has come, and that we ourselves have witnessed the opening of a new and milder era?

The least hopeful must recognize the vast change which has passed upon the character of European wars since the battle of Waterloo. England has ceased to take any part in dynastic strife, Nay, such strifes have ceased to occur in Europe. With the personal ambition of sovereigns eliminated from European politics, we may anticipate a constantly growing reluctance to seek the solution of international differences by the brutal methods heretofore employed.

England has been, engaged in numerous wars during the last seventy years. But these have been nearly all brief and unimportant; and, in their contrast to our earlier wars, furnish evidence that the spirit which drove us so constantly into strife has undergone vast amelioration. The only war which recalls the fighting period of our history was that which we unhappily waged with Russia for the protection of Turkey. Otherwise, we have contented ourselves with little wars and easy conquests over weak and barbarous states. We destroyed the Turkish fleet to secure the independence of Greece. We bombarded Acre to restore the dominion of Turkey over Syria. We sharply chastised the Algerines for their practice of piracy. In Asia we subdued the Goorkhas, the Pindarees, the Afghans, the Scindians, the Burmese, the Sikhs. We were also constrained to destroy our native Indian army, in punishment of its aggravated mutiny. Three times we fought with China. Once we bombarded a considerable Japanese town. We had four wars with the Kaffirs. We had a toy war with Persia. We subdued the natives of New Zealand. We waged with the Abyssinians in a doubtful quarrel a war composed of one battle, and memorable chiefly for its enormous cost. We fought victoriously against the Ashantees. We were dragged by the unwarrantable measures of one of our own public servants into a war with the Zulus, of the origin and early conduct of which we have the deepest reason, to feel ashamed. [We attempted, but failed, to bring the Boers of the Transvaal to submission; and with an assumption of generosity which they were too wise to resent, we granted them self-government under British suzerainty. In these petty and inglorious strifes it can scarcely be said that England was at war. She was merely inflicting chastisement, not always merited, oil little states that troubled her. There was danger of a wider conflagration when our jealousy of Russia forced us into a second Afghan war, in which the tragic incidents of the first war, including the murder of the envoy, were repeated with little variation. But the country saw the. danger, and insisted on the war being stopped.

More serious was our interference in the affairs of Egypt and the Soudan. We interfered ostensibly in order to restore settled government in Egypt, when, it was overturned by a military revolt, and that in order to secure for our communications with India the peaceful use of the Suez Canal. Behind that, however, there were questions of financial control in Egypt, and questions of the claims of Egyptian bondholders, which made the war popular with British capitalists. The British fleet gained renown in the bombardment of Alexandria, and the British army won fresh laurels on the sands of Tel-el-Kebir. The military revolt was suppressed, and the Khedive or Turkish viceroy was restored. But the war left Egypt in as troubled a state, and its finances in as much confusion, as before. Almost the only result of the expenditure of several millions and many lives was - apart from the "glory" - that we excited the jealousy and hurt the sensibilities of France. Then came the "holy war" waged by the Mahdi in the Eastern Soudan. That was a justifiable effort on the part of the Arabs or Soudanese of the Upper Nile region to throw off the Egyptian yoke. If this country had not pledged itself and its credit to Egypt, we should never have concerned ourselves with a purely Egyptian quarrel. But the advance of the Mahdi threatened Egypt, and involved the fate of the Egyptian garrisons in the Soudan. We therefore plunged into the war with our usual reckless generosity. We sent an armed force to Suakim, on the Reel Sea coast. We spent a million sterling on the material for a railway from Suakim to Berber, of which only a few miles were ever laid. We sent General Gordon on a peaceful mission to Khartoum. Then we sent up the Nile an army of ten thousand men under our greatest-general to release Gordon. That army made heroic marches across the desert, and gained several brilliant victories over hosts of undisciplined barbarians. After all, its pioneers reached Khartoum only to find that Gordon had been killed two days previously, and that the place was in the hands of the Mahdi. Rumours of the death of the Mahcli afforded an excuse for the withdrawal of the expedition. The army had lost many distinguished officers and brave soldiers. It had cost the country a vast sum of money. And it had accomplished - nothing.

England and America have given to the world the first great example of the peaceful settlement of differences by reference to the judgment of impartial persons. Influenced by an unhappy sympathy with the rebel slave-owners during the Civil War, England permitted ships to sail from her ports to prey upon American commerce. The time came for America to sum up her losses, and call upon England to indemnify her. England proposed arbitration, but America, too angry as yet, rejected the proposal. A few years passed; more temperate counsels prevailed; the offer was renewed, and accepted. Commissioners were chosen, to whom America submitted her claims. The judges found that reason was upon her side, and ordained that England should pay three million sterling, as fitting redress for the evil which she had wrongfully permitted. The transaction is for ever memorable as the earliest evidence that the differences of states can be settled on the basis of justice, and not of mere brute strength.

But although the English people have made large progress in discovering the brutality and needlessness of war, they are slow to perceive the folly of wasting their substance on a continual preparation for it. The traditions of many bloody centuries still exercise a powerful influence over their minds. Their greatest statesmen have been most keenly alive to the value of economy. William Pitt reduced the army to eighteen thousand men, and its cost to £1,800,000. Sir Robert Peel urged that nations ought to run some risk of being imperfectly prepared when war came, rather than weaken themselves by huge idle armaments, Mr. Gladstone has frequently endeavoured to awaken a sentiment favourable to economy. But the people continue to manifest a remarkable apathy to the ill-judged expenditure of their earnings. From a net revenue of ninety million sterling (For the year 1887-88), England expends twenty-eight million in interest on debt incurred by the wars of the past, and thirty million on her preparation for the wars of the future. Her civil charges are twenty-six million. War has, in all the ages of her history, consumed the substance of her people, and continues to do so. If Englishmen, of former generations had been contented to live peaceably; if Englishmen of this generation were able to put confidence in. the good intentions of their neighbours, the cost of their government would be a sum wholly insignificant.

During peace the governments of Europe withdraw several millions of young men entirely, and a large additional number partially, from peaceful and productive occupations, and consign them to the demoralizing idleness of the barrack. On these monstrous armaments they expend annually one hundred and twenty million sterling. The loss resulting from the enforced idleness of the soldiers amounts probably to a still larger sum.

The discontinuance of this lamentable waste is yet in the future. But nothing in the future is more certain. History is, upon the whole, a record of human progress. It is incredible that men are not to rise above the passion for mutual destruction. War is the fitting employment of the savage. As men become civilized they will no longer attempt to settle their differences by the slaughter of one another. And gradually, as they desist from war, they will cease to maintain its costly appliances.

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