HALDANE’S WEAK DEFENCE
LIEUT.-COLONEL J. B. MACLEAN
Review of Reviews Section
OUR Ex-Minister of War, Viscount Haldane, is at last out with his defence, and the extraordinary
fact is that he makes it to a foreign nation and not to an outraged British Empire; and we are not permitted to print it in Canada.
But, before dealing with it, let us recall some history. Back in the early nineties, when it became apparent that Russian ambitions, German desire for world dominance, and French desire for revenge were leading towards a great war into which we would be drawn in self-defence, we began to prepare. The first step was a Committee on National Defence under Mr. Balfour. This was followed by the organization of a General Staff exactly on the lines adopted by the Germans under the great Von Moltke, over forty years earlier—but resisted by the British War Office until the lamentable failures in South Africa showed the need for reform. It will please those who think that Germany is not an originator but a developer of ideas to know that this man who revolutionized war had more HighlandScotch than German blood in his veins. He was in no way connected with the other German family of that name. In fact, Von Moltke—as his nephew, the late Chief of Staff, wrote a few years before the war—was not his real name, but MacMullen. The Liberals came into power in England in 1905, and it was very important that a good man be put in the War Office, who would act in conjunction with the newly and only partially organized General Staff. Haldane had been legal adviser to the Government of Canada, in London, and had imbibed more Imperialistic ideals than any of his colleagues, and in consequence, he was specially asked by the King “to take on the job.” That, is, the defence of the Empire was placed in his hands. He was the one man upon whom the Cabinet and the nation depended for expert guidance. He worked on it exclusively for seven years. He had an absolutely free hand. From 1912 to 1914, he had an indirect control.
When the great war came it found our war department almost totally unprepared. The public blamed Haldane for this condition, and said he had been so flattered by the attentions of the Kaiser that he had become his dupe. Asquith put him back in the War Office, but the outraged nation raised such an outcry, that he lasted less than 24 hours. During the five years that have since elapsed, he and his friends have always answered the criticisms by looking very solemn and wise, saying: “Wait and see; he has been shamefully misjudged and disgracefully treated; when he is permitted to speak, the nation will get a surprise.”
He has spoken, and his explanations confirm the criticisms. They also prove him to be a common political faker in claiming personal credit for the work of others, and suggest that his records should be further investigated by a properly constituted court. Such a proceeding would have a great moral influence over such men in the future.
Defence Printed in U. S.
ASI said, we are not allowed to print ^ in Canada his full defence or the details of his many talks, and luncheons and dinners with the Kaiser and his friends, as they were “working” him, 'ust as the ordinary professional gambor, company promoter or blackmailer works his victims. The cases are exactly alike excepting that the nation and the lives of its young men were the Btakes. His story appears in the Atlantic Monthly, of Boston, an excellent magazine with a small circulation and but few readers outside the U.S.A. We have here a practical example of what would have happened under ExPresident Taft’s Reciprocity Treaty, w(h ich, he sai d confi den ti alii y, wouldfmake Canadian trade an “adjunct” to the big
cities and manufacturers of the U. S. In literary matters, this is exactly where we stand to-day. Under the British Copyright Act, U. S. publishers absolutely control Canada. They compel an author to print in the States, but will net permit him to do so in Canada.
The article is headed “Some Recollections,” and it deals mainly with conversations with the Kaiser and his Chancellor, and also latterly with Von Tirpitz. If we are not allowed to place his story in full before the Canadians—and as far as I know, no British publication has it—we will strain the copyright law by quoting the salient points of his defence and give the parallel from the records, and from writings of his own friends -which disprove his statements.
His most important admissions are that he knew war was probable; that the preparations for it were put in his charge; and that if France was overrun, England would be in danger. He thus puts the situation right up to himself.
He opens his article:
“Many things that happened in the “years just before 1914, as well as the “events of the great war itself, are still “too close to permit of our studying “them in their full content. * * At this “moment all that can safely be attempted is that actual observers should set “down what they have themselves observed. For there has rarely been a “time when the judicial maxim, that “ ‘hearsay is not evidence,’ ought to be “more sternly insisted on. If I now “venture to set down what follows in “these pages, it is because I had certain “opportunities for forming a judgment “at first hand for myself. * * * from the “end of 1905 to the summer of 1912. I “had special opportunity for a direct “observation. During that period I was “Scrotary of State for War, and from “1912 to April, 1915, I was the holder “of another office and a member of the “British Cabinet. During the first of “these periods, it fell to me to work out “the military organization that would “be required to ensure, as far as was “practicable, against risk, should those “strenuous efforts fail into which Sir “Edward Grey had thrown his strength. “He was endeavoring with all his might “to guard the peace of Europe from “danger. As he and I had for many “years been on terms of close intimacy, “it was not unnatural that he should “ask me to do what I could by helping “in some of the diplomatic work which “was his, as well as engaging in my “own special task. Indeed, the two “phases of activity could hardly be “separable. * * * In 1906, while War “Minister, I paid, on the invitation of “the German Emperor, a visit to him at “Berlin, * * * while at Berlin, I saw “much of the Emperor, and I also saw “certain of his Ministers, notably, “Prince von Bülow, Herr von Thirsky, “and General von Einem, the first be“ing at that time Chancellor, and the “last two being respectively the Foreign “and War Ministers. I was invited to “look over for myself the organization “of the German War Office, which I “wished to study for purposes of reform “at home; and this I did in some detail, “in company with an expert adviser “from my own staff, Colonel Ellison, “my military private secretary. There “the authorities explained to us the “general nature of the organization for “rapid mobilization w'hich had been “developed under the great von Moltke, “and subsequently carried farther. The “character of this organization was, in “its general features, no secret in Ger“many, although it was somewhat unfamiliar in Anglo-Saxon countries; “and it interested my adviser and my“self intensely.”
“At that time there was an active “military party in Germany, which of “course, was not wholly pleased at the “reception which we met with from the “Emperor, etc., etc.”
Further on in the article he admits
that as Minister of War, in January, 1906, he was instructed by the British Cabinet, in view of the probability of Germany attacking France, to take up the plans for the defence of the Empire, and :
“How to mobilize and concentrate at “a place of assembly to be opposite the “Belgian frontier, a force calculated as “adequate (with the assistance of Rus“sian pressure in the East), to make up “for the inadequacy of the French “armies for their great task of defend“ing the entire French frontier, from “Dunkirk down to Belfort—or even “further south, if Italy should join the “Triple Alliance in an attack.”
I will come back to this quotation later.
The remainder and greater part of the article is devoted to his many visits to the Kaiser and Chancellor, and their visits to him in England. In fact, he shows that all questions between Germany and Britain—military, naval, Bagdad railway—were entrusted to this simple-minded stage Englishman. Even at this late date, with all that has been developed, he appears to think that the Kaiser and his Chancellor were as simple and honest as were he and Sir Edward Grey—the latter was living with him through all these eventful years— that the former were surrounded by a few bad men who caused them to break all their gentlemen’s agreements—just the ordinary Confidence Game. His dealings with the Kaiser are shown to have been many times worse and more dangerous to the defence of the Empire than the receipt of the letter from the Kaiser by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Tweedmouth, in 1908, which he refused to make public; and Asquith was so alarmed that the letter might get out that he quickly disclaimed Cabinet responsibility and kicked Tweedmouth out of the Government under pressure of an alarmed nation; which then demanded, and got, a reorganized navy which saved us when the war came. For on July 29, 1914, a line of battleships formed across the channel from Dover to Ostend, and effectively prevented German troops being landed in France, and allowed us to send over our Expeditionary Forces unmolested.
The Childlike Faith of Haldane
T JNDERLYING Haldane’s whole deL"' fence is a childish attempt to prove how well informed he was and how it was due to his efforts that Britain was so well prepared. Childlike because the untruthfulness of so many of his statements and inferences is easily proved. He writes in Chapter II: “To say, therefore, that we were caught unprepared is not accurate,” and then proceeds to show why they were not fully prepared by explaining that compulsory service was out of the question for Great Britain, and moreover, it would have taken thirty years to organize. Nowhere does he refer to his opposition to Lord Roberts, Colonel Repington and the others who were campaigning for preparedness. Instead he says, “Our main strength was in our navy and its tradition.” Just how “naval traditions” were to make up for a shortage of soldiers and machine guns on the Belgian frontier, he does not explain. “Our secondary contribution,” he continues, “was a small army, fashioned to fulfill a scientifically measured function. It was of course a very small army, but it had a scientific organization.” That tradition and scientifically measured functions failed to stay the German hordes was not his Minister’s fault, he explained, but Russia’s. The fact is that this splendid little army was so long on science and short on machine guns, because Haldane and Seely and Asquith refused to listen to practical soldiers, that it was unable to defend itself properly and great slaughter was the result. Finally he seems to get angry with those who ask why we were not prepared and falls back upon legal
technicalities. “Anyhow,” he says, “we fulfilled our contract, for at eleven o’clock on Monday morning, August 3, 1914, we mobilized, without a hitch, the whole Expeditionary Force,” and he asks us to believe that this very successful mobilization was due to him. He says :
“I speak of this with direct knowledge, for as the Prime Minister, who “was ‘temporarily holding the seals of “the War Department,’ was overwhelmed with business, he asked me, through “the Lord Chancellor, to go to the War “Office, and give directions for the “mobilization of the machinery with “which I was so familiar; and I did so “on the morning of Monday, August 3, “and a day later handed it over in working order to Lord Kitchener.”
It is not necessary to go into details to show how absurd it is for any man, particularly an amateur and a Lord Chancellor, an expert in legal technicalities, who had been away from the War Office for two years, to step back and in a few hours make all arrangements for the mobilization and despatch of the Expeditionary Force and the mobilization of 350,000 militiamen, and hand over the whole outfit, in complete working order in one day. The facts are that this had all been arranged for long before by the professional soldiers, and the mobilization of the Expeditionary Force was completed days before, and much of it was in France before Haldane came to the War Office. The Heavy Artillery Brigade actually left Woolwich July 29, and had landed in Dunkirk the following day. Part, if not all, of the Cavalry were ready and expected to cross the channel August 2, at the ;latest.
The Formation of the General Staff
'THE above is typical of his mental
. peculiarities and of his other claims for credit to which he is in no way entitled. In the first quotation I make from his article, he refers to his visit to the German War Office and his intense interest in and study of the organization for rapid mobilization. He points out that the von Moltke system was generally unknown in Anglo-Saxon countries. As it was adopted by us, inference is that he was entitled to the credit. As a matter of fact, it was recommended for adoption many years before by the Hartington Committee, but was killed by Haldane’s chief, Campbell-Bannerman. It was brought back by Haldane’s predecessor, ArnoldForster. Its backbone is the General Staff, and when Haldane came in he found this coming into being, but it is strange that he had to go to Germany to be convinced. It was well he did, for he gave the General Staff a fairly free hand, excepting where their politics interfered, as he thought, with the Government’s popularity with the voters— and we now know that some of this sentiment to which they listened, was German propaganda. It was to the Balfour Defence Committee, and to this General Staff, backed up by Lord Roberts’ campaign, that we owe the partial preparations we had made when war came. But for his co-operation with them, we must give Haldane due credit. It is a fact, however, that one of his first acts was to cut down the strength of the army.
In Chapter II, he tells that after one of the Kaiser’s inspirational talks with him in 1906:
“The paradox presented itself that a “war with Germany, in which we were “alone, would be easier than a war in “which France was attacked along with “us; for, if Germany succeeding in overrunning France, she might establish “naval bases on the northern channel “ports of that country, quite close to “our shore, and so, with the possible aid “of the submarines, long range gunsT “a,nd lir machines of the future, interfere materially with our naval position
“in the channel and our naval defences “against invasion.”
In these words Viscount Haldane asks us to believe that away back in 1906, he foresaw these possibilities. His friends and the facts belie him. One of his chief advisers was Viscount French. The latter writes in “1914”:
“It is easy to be 'wise after the “event’; but I cannot help wondering “why none of us realized what the most “modern rifle, the machine gun, the “aeroplane and wireless telegraphy “would bring about.”
“The first surprise came * * * * they “were our first experience with artillery “heavier than our own.”
Nor did our naval experts fear any serious danger from submarines as far back as 1906.
Another example of his simple trusting nature when he “sat in the German Confidence Game” is his reference, already quoted, to the fact that the dominant military party, “was not wholly pleased at the reception we met with from the Emperor.” This was part of well-recognized German propaganda, exposed months before Haldane paid his first visit to the Kaiser by Leo Maxse, in the National Review; by Colonel Repington. in The Times and others. In his recent book, Colonel Repington says :
“We were fools in those days. (1905“6) ; we were as blind as bats The Ger“mans used every means to ingratiate “themselves with us, and there began “that series of mutual visits and fawn“ings of Anglo-German statesmen, phil“anthropists, editors and Chambers of “Commerce which are part of the stock “in-trade of German militant diplomacy “and appeal so readily to easy-going, “unsuspecting Britishers. All this “reached such a pitch towards the end “of the year, and the diplomatic situation became so grave, that I published “in the Times, on December 27, 1905, an “article on France and Germany pointing out in plain terms the danger of “the situation * * * * The situation re“mained extremely dangerous until cer“tain decisions were taken in 1906. It “was my purpose to describe the most “interesting page of history, but am “forbidden to do so, and must reserve it “for a later period.”
The Wily Work of the Kaiser /CHAPTER V of the Recollections ^ gives some interesting side-lights. In 1911, he tells us, the Kaiser paid a visit to King George, and sent a message to Viscount Haldane that “he would like to come and lunch with him to meet people whom otherwise he might not see.” The slick and wily Prussian! The noble Viscount tells us: “I acted on
my own discretion, and when he came to my house I had a widely selected party of about a dozen to meet him. * * * * The Emperor engaged in conversation with everyone, and all went with smoothness.” So smoothly that when war came, at least one-third of the guests, whose names he gives, were outstanding figures in opposition to our putting un any defence, among them being Lord Morley, Ramsay Macdonald, leader of the Labor Party, and the editor of the Westminster Gazette. The old Kaiser, the clever old jollier!
A couple of paragraphs further along, he innocently confirmed a suspicion of the intrigue and influence of Sir Ernest Cassel, the German financier, in our public affairs, when he tells us that “In January, 1912, an informal
message was given by the Emperor to Sir Ernest Cassel, for transmission, if possible, through one of my colleagues to the Foreign Office.” It would be interesting to know who this other member of the Cabinet was who was closer to the Kaiser than Haldane and those we already know of. Also this clearly indicates Sir Ernest was one of the Kaiser’s confidential agents in England. He has led a charmed existence since the war, while that other great German banker, Sir Edgar Speyer, was the object of a British press campaign, so bitter that it drove him out of England, which suggests that Sir Edgar and the British press have been made the victim of an outrageous plot to cover the work of Sir Ernest by diverting attention away from him. The object of the message is shown in succeeding chapters to have been the same old plot; to induce the British to let up in the naval programme and sign an agreemeht to give Germany a free hand by refraining from helping France, Russia or other British Allies in case Germany made war upon them. Viscount Haldane as usual rushed to Berlin and waited subserviently upon the Kaiser, the Chancellor and Admiral von Tirpitz. He gives a fairly complete account of this visit and the efforts he made to meet their wishes. It is quite significant that the Kaiser and his ministers were entirely satisfied with British army preparations for the coming war; Haldane was himself in the War Office, and as 1 -mg as he was there, they were safe from the menace of Lord Roberts’ campaign.
The Need For Practical Men
ONE puts down the magazine with a feeling of great sadness as he thinks of how woefully we have been misgoverned by our great intellectuals and idle rich, moral uplifters, inexperienced in the affairs of life and in the ways of the masses of mankind ; and of how different things might have been under a practical man. There would have been no war, no slaughter, no bereaved families, no staggering taxation. Our army would have been as ready as our navy and the Germans would never have fought us.
Haldane’s profound knowledge of law, its technicalities, its precedents, from long and careful study has no doubt made him an outstanding figure in the legal profession, and, when instructed by the special information of his clients, a formidable figure in the higher courts where fine points of law, and not common sense, justice, and experience and the ways of the world, govern trick decisions. He was a helpless child in the hands of the astute Kaiser and the far-seeing militarists, shrewd financiers and the aggressive manufacturers and business developers under whose direction he was acting^ Our experience with Haldane, Asquith, Churchill and the bounder, Sir F. E. Smith, and others of their type convinces us that we need not view with any alarm the advent of a Labor Government. A Labor Government could not have done worse. In fact, the experience of this war shows they would have done very much better. The voice of Labor leaders in this war has persistently called for experienced men to replace the failures among the appointees of family and political influence. If I were in England, Tory as I am, I would vote to-day for a Labor Government.