An African Adventure

#Travel #Africa
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Excerpt Turn the searchlight on the political and economic chaos that has followed the Great War and you find a surprising lack of real leadership. Out of the mists that enshroud the world welter only three commanding personalities emerge. In England Lloyd George survives amid the storm of party clash and Irish discord. Down in Greece Venizelos, despite defeat, remains an impressive figure of high ideals and uncompromising patriotism. Off in South Africa Smuts gives fresh evidence of his vision and authority. Although he was Britain's principal prop during the years of agony and disaster, Lloyd George is, in the last analysis, merely an eloquent and spectacular politician with the genius of opportunism. One reason why he holds his post is that there is no one to take his place,—another commentary on the paucity of greatness. There is no visible heir to Venizelos. Besides, Greece is a small country without international touch and interest. Smuts, youngest of the trio, looms up as the most brilliant statesman of his day and his career has just entered upon a new phase. He is the dominating actor in a drama that not only affects the destiny of the whole British Empire, but has significance for every civilized nation. The quality of striking contrast has always been his. The one-time Boer General, who fought Roberts and Kitchener twenty years ago, is battling with equal tenacity for the integrity of the Imperial Union born of that war. Not in all history perhaps, is revealed a more picturesque situation than obtains in South Africa today. You have the whole Nationalist movement crystallized into a single compelling episode. In a word, it is contemporary Ireland duplicated without violence and extremism. I met General Smuts often during the Great War. He stood out as the most intellectually alert, and in some respects the most distinguished figure among the array of nation-guiders with whom I talked, and I interviewed them all. I saw him as he sat in the British War Cabinet when the German hosts were sweeping across the Western Front, and when the German submarines were making a shambles of the high seas. I heard him speak with persuasive force on public occasions and he was like a beacon in the gloom. He had come to England in 1917 as the representative of General Botha, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, to attend the Imperial Conference and to remain a comparatively short time. So great was the need of him that he did not go home until after the Peace had been signed. He signed the Treaty under protest because he believed it was uneconomic and it has developed into the irritant that he prophesied it would be. In those war days when we foregathered, Smuts often talked of "the world that would be." The real Father of the League of Nations idea, he believed that out of the immense travail would develop a larger fraternity, economically sound and without sentimentality. It was a great and yet a practical dream. More than once he asked me to come to South Africa. I needed little urging. From my boyhood the land of Cecil Rhodes has always held a lure for me. Smuts invested it with fresh interest. So I went. The Smuts that I found at close range on his native heath, wearing the mantle of the departed Botha, carrying on a Government with a minority, and with the shadow of an internecine war brooding on the horizon, was the same serene, clear-thinking strategist who had raised his voice in the Allied Councils. Then the enemy was the German and the task was to destroy the menace of militarism....
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