E. Belfort Bax, War Reflections I, Justice, 6th May 1915, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).
It is difficult for some of us to understand fully what leads certain persons to adopt an apologetic, or quasi-apologetic attitude towards the direct authors of the present war. These persons consider themselves pacifists, and in general principle strongly opposed to militarism and all that savours of militarism; yet, strange to say, they are never tired of endeavouring to find excuses, not for the German nation – that I could understand – but for the policy of the Kaiser, his Prussian military oligarchy, and the Junker party generally, i.e., for about the most truculent representatives of despotic militarism known to history and certainly to modern times. I have read things in this connection which are little short of disgraceful, as proceeding from the pens of persons professing humane, not to say democratic, sentiments. Mindful of the saying of Polonius, that “this defective comes by cause,” I have endeavoured to trace back the falling away from consistency of the worthy persons in question to its psychological causes, and fancy I can lay my finger on two of the chief ones.
Firstly, we have here, I think, the operation of a common fallacy, to wit, that truth and justice can never be on one side only. The fact that very frequently, or perhaps generally, there is something to be said for the “other side” leads many persons to the quite mistaken conclusion, as Mill has pointed out, that this is always and necessarily the case. As a matter of fact, the refusal to recognise that this is not so has for its consequence that the very desire to be just and impartial results in barring the way to a really just judgment.
Secondly we have here, I surmise, an illustration of the well-known Latin tag “Corruptio optimi pessima.” All good Socialists and true have an abhorrence of the cant of the patriot and the lying humbug of the Jingo which would attempt to whitewash every crime committed in the name of their glorious British Empire. Now, as it seems to me, this, in itself excellent anti-patriotic sentiment, very naturally, considering the villainies committed by British Governments in the past, which have been justified in the name of patriotism, gives the consistent Socialist or Democrat pause before approving of any action or attitude of a British Government in matters of foreign or colonial policy. But is there not a danger on occasion of this very desire to shun the cant of patriotism becoming so morbidly exaggerated as to land us in the opposite extreme, the mere cant of anti-patriotism? For this, although a much rarer phenomenon than the other, is undoubtedly a possibility. Because English policy has, as a rule, been wrong, and often iniquitous, it is assumed that it can never by any chance happen to be right; and the assumption in question is apt to colour and distort the judgment, quite irrespective of the inherent merits of the evidence in any particular issue. Now this, it seems to me, is the case with some of our so-called “pro-German” friends whose lucubrations on the subject of the war I have read. They beat about the bush, throwing as much mud as they can at the Allies and their diplomatic proceedings, but they do not, so far as I have seen, ever venture to come to grips with the hard facts of the situation.
The indictment against the Prusso-German war-makers falls under three general counts, which are as follows: (1) The refusal of the Prusso-German government to accept a conference as at the close of the Balkan war, and the subsequent declaration of war under the flimsy pretext that Russia was mobilising after Austria had already begun to mobilise and Germany herself had already taken steps in that direction (the hollowness of the excuse for this sudden declaration of war became subsequently apparent, if only from the fact that Germany was fully prepared to take the field the day after the declaration of war, whereas it required at least three or four weeks before Russia could open effective hostilities); the tearing up of the Treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality, and the invasion of that country that immediately followed and which constituted the opening of the war.
(2) The hideous and inhuman atrocities which have signalised the campaign from the outset, atrocities which are proved to have formed part of a deliberate plan of the Prussian military authorities, and which it has also been proved the soldiers have been forced to commit at the point of the revolver and the mouth of the mitrailleuse; the wanton destruction of towns and villages; the throwing of bombs on undefended civil populations, the sowing of mines in the open sea; the wholesale slaughter of non-combatants; the cold-blooded butchery of prisoners and wounded on the battlefield – all things are written in the history past months of the war. But the crimes deliberately premeditated and organised by the war-makers, i.e., the Prussian military authorities, have not only affected the “enemy,” but the unfortunate rank and file of the German Army itself. Among the German prisoners’ statement from all quarters come accounts of the inhumanity of the treatment of the soldier in the ranks. Only the other day at Lille privates were ordered to be shot for refusing to obey orders to bury alive after covering them with quicklime the living bodies of their comrades who were dying of typhoid and of whom the military staff wished to be disembarrassed. The execution of the unfortunate men, it is said, was not carried out owing to the personal interposition of the Crown Prince of Bavaria. These are the criminals and such are the crimes that our so-called pro-German friends by implication excuse.
(3) We have further the campaign of lies which the Government of Berlin, through the Wolff Agency, has created in order to deceive the German people at home. For how long was the bulk of the German nation not led to believe that Nancy and Verdun had fallen and that all Paris was occupied by German troops? There was a certain raffinement in lying in the official report last October, that the German Army had been withdrawn from Paris owing to the cholera which was raging there. But the official lies of the Wolff Agency are a matter of such daily occurrence that it is impossible to enumerate here even the chief of them. One of these reports, however, is too amusing to omit. Early last December the Berlin public were informed that, in the French town where I live and where I am writing this article, the inhabitants were reduced to eating rats and mice! I should add that food and living generally is cheaper here than in London. It is obviously of the first importance to the Kaiser and his criminal gang in Berlin and Potsdam that the German people should be fed with these lies lest the real facts should cause an explosion of popular wrath which would sweep away them and their like.
(To be concluded)
Last updated on 28.5.2007