Britain at Bay

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Excerpt I THE NATION AND THE PARTIES "I do not believe in the perfection of the British constitution as an instrument of war ... it is evident that there is something in your machinery that is wrong." These were the words of the late Marquis of Salisbury, speaking as Prime Minister in his place in the House of Lords on the 30th of January 1900. They amounted to a declaration by the British Government that it could not govern, for the first business of a Government is to be able to defend the State of which it has charge, that is, to carry on war. Strange to say, the people of England were undisturbed by so striking an admission of national failure. On the 16th of March 1909 came a new declaration from another Prime Minister. Mr. Asquith, on the introduction of the Navy Estimates, explained to the House of Commons that the Government had been surprised at the rate at which the new German navy was being constructed, and at the rapid growth of Germany's power to build battleships. But it is the first duty of a Government to provide for national security and to provide means to foresee. A Government that is surprised in a matter relating to war is already half defeated. The creation of the German navy is the creation of means that could be used to challenge Great Britain's sea power and all that depends upon it. There has been no such challenge these hundred years, no challenge so formidable as that represented by the new German fleet these three hundred years. It brings with it a crisis in the national life of England as great as has ever been known; yet this crisis finds the British nation divided, unready and uncertain what leadership it is to expect. The dominant fact, the fact that controls all others, is that from now onwards Great Britain has to face the stern reality of war, immediately by way of preparation and possibly at any moment by way of actual collision. England is drifting into a quarrel with Germany which, if it cannot be settled, involves a struggle for the mastery with the strongest nation that the world has yet seen—a nation that, under the pressure of necessity, has learnt to organise itself for war as for peace; that sets its best minds to direct its preparations for war; that has an army of four million citizens, and that is of one mind in the determination to make a navy that shall fear no antagonist. A conflict of this kind is the test of nations, not only of their strength but also of their righteousness or right to be. It has two aspects. It is first of all a quarrel and then a fight, and if we are to enter into it without fear of destruction we must fulfil two conditions: in the quarrel we must be in the right, in the fight we must win. The two conditions are inseparable. If there is a doubt about the justice of our cause we shall be divided among ourselves, and it will be impossible for us to put forth the strength of a united nation. Have we really a quarrel with Germany? Is she doing us any wrong? Some of our people seem to think so, though I find it hard to say in what the wrong consists....
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