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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Editorials|
|Date: March, 2017|
|By: Brendan Clifford|
Roger Casement’s Writings in the Continental Times — An Introduction
|Roger Casement was a famous diplomat in the service of the British Foreign Office. He was knighted for his service to the cause of Liberal Britain by exposing the genocidal plunder of "little Belgium" in the Congo Free State which it owned, and the similar activities of international capital in Latin America. He was commended for these humanitarian activities by his friend, the Liberal Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey—who a few years later saw to it that he was hanged.
He was hanged because, when Sir Edward decided on 4th August 1914 to intervene militarily in the European War that had just come about by declaring war on Germany, he declared his support for Germany and tried to assist it.
He declared support for Germany, and described the British declaration of war against it as a "crime against Europe", because he thought that Britain was comprehensively in the wrong. He applied Liberal morality to the situation and acted on the moral judgment that the facts of the matter forced him to.
It was astonishing. It was bizarre. "One doesn't do that kind of thing", as Judge Brack says in Hedda Gabler, the play by Ibsen, who knew his bourgeoisie and put them on display.
Well Casement did it. And he did it as a member of the most moral state in the world—the state that moralises most. He made a moral decision against England, and he acted on it! It was outrageous! The man must have been mad!
How could he have failed to understand that England, which moralises unceasingly and never admits to acting out of material interest, could not be wrong? Morality was an attribute of its very existence as a State—an existence which began effectively as a merger of Church and State in 1531 with the State in command. What was right was what the Church department of the State said was right.
What strange, alien, strain was there in Casement's existence that compelled him to make a moral judgment against the State which he had served so diligently, and act on that judgment by going into the service of the enemy?
In one of his early Continental Times articles (reprinted here for the first time), he asks the same question in reverse about Sir Edward Grey: how could Grey, as a Liberal, have continued to serve the State after it had gone wrong and had launched a war of destruction against European civilisation?
He suggests, tentatively, that Grey possibly did not know what he was doing because he was the front man for a very purposeful party within the Foreign Office that knew very well what it was doing but that presented Grey at every turn with plausible reasons which caused him, or enabled him, to think that he was doing something else. But, at the same time, Casement doubts that the Grey he knew could have been so obtuse that he could not see what he was doing, even if he had not planned it. And, if he had been duped, could he possibly have done it so well? And yet he did appear utterly honest all the time. It was puzzling.
Tam Dalyell, a Labour MP of the 1970s-80s, who had a family connection with Grey, suggested that Grey had "sleepwalked" England into the Great War. That is certainly the appearance that he gave at the time and also in his memoirs. It was a necessary appearance, both for the 'moral' record and for actually getting England into the War. If it had appeared that the British Government had well-laid plans for war on Germany and intended putting them into effect, that would possibly have prevented the European War from starting, and would probably have prevented the Liberal Government from entering it if it did start.
The Government did not have a party majority in Parliament. The Liberal Party depended on the support of the Irish Party to be in Government. The Irish Party was historically sceptical of the moralising which always accompanied British war-making. It had developed a close alliance with, and influence on, the ranks of the Liberal Party during the Parliamentary battles since 1911, over the People's Budget, the Parliament Act restricting the power of the House of Lords, and the Home Rule Bill. And the Liberal ranks had inherited, from the mid-19th century Liberalism of Cobden, Bright and Gladstone, a strong prejudice against British participation in European wars on balance-of-power grounds.
If it had appeared that the Government had made careful preparations for a European War, and for British participation in it, the Government would probably have been unable to put those plans into effect when the moment came. An attempt to do so would very probably have led to the fall of the Government because of the loss of Irish support—and of a considerable body of support on its own back-benches under the influence of the Irish Party.
The Liberal Government could only declare war on Germany and remain in Office if it could make it appear that its reason for going to war had nothing whatever to do with balance-of-power calculations. It needed the appearance of a disinterested, altruistically moral, case for making war on Germany.
The foreign policy of the Irish Party before 1914 had been expressed by John Dillon. Dillon suspected strongly that the Government, in collusion with the Unionist Opposition, had made a secret agreement with France for war against Germany, and was secretly making detailed military preparations for such a war. He questioned the Government in Parliament about military collaboration. The Government gave an absolute assurance that there was no such agreement or understanding with France.
To the best of my knowledge nobody in the leadership of the Irish Party criticised Dillon for expressing these suspicions. There was a general understanding in the Party that Britain was a war-mongering state. It had been making war unceasingly and advantageously throughout the life of the existing regime—the regime that was established following the coup d'état of 1688. It was the greatest Empire the world had ever seen, and boasted of it.
Great Empires, with far-flung possessions, are made by war.
The most recent major war fought by Britain at that point was the war of conquest of the Boer Republics only a dozen years before 1914.
The Irish Party had opposed the war against the Boers. It had not, since the end of the Boer War (1903) revised its view of the British Empire. Its influential spokesmen on foreign affairs had around 1908 accused the Government of preparation for another European War—another balance-of-power war. But, when clear proof of Dillon's suspicions emerged in the early days of August 1914, the Party Leader—Redmond—rushed to declare his support for war against Germany.
The Foreign Secretary, Grey, admitted to having misled Parliament. Britain, he said, had contracted a debt of honour with France in the matter of war against Germany—without having let Parliament know. And a debt of honour to launch a World War must, like a gambling debt, be honoured. Suddenly the most calculating war-making State in the world put the matter on the basis of mediaeval chivalry.
It has been widely asserted in recent decades that in early August 1914 Ireland was an integral part of the British state, and therefore had no choice but to engage in the war on Germany as part of that state, with no authority of its own.
But the Irish Party was not just hustled into the War against Germany by the British Government. It did not just follow the Government into the War. The Home Rule leader, without consulting the country, without even consulting his Parliamentary colleagues, made the Irish Party an active collaborator with the Government in the launching of the war.
If the Home Rule Bill had been enacted and implemented, and Redmond was the Prime Minister of a Home Rule Ireland under Crown sovereignty and Westminster direction, then it might have been that Redmond had no choice in the matter.
But the Home Rule Bill, though cleared for enactment by being passed by three sessions of the House of Commons, was not enacted. The Government had deferred its enactment so that it would not be faced with the problem of implementing it. It could not implement it because 'Ulster' had armed to resist it and the Officer corps of the Army had told the Government it would resign rather than act against 'Ulster' resistance to the implementation of a Home Rule Act.
The only way the Government could implement a Home Rule Act was by excluding Ulster from it. But, if it proposed the exclusion of Ulster, it would have lost the support of the Irish Party and would have fallen.
The Home Rule Bill had gone through its Parliamentary process but the Government had decided not to give it to the King to sign, because it appeared certain that an attempt to implement it would lead to Civil War—and not just a war amongst the Irish, because the Unionist Opposition in Britain (which was equal to the Liberal Government in its Parliamentary representation), was treating the issue as a British Constitutional matter.
Home Rule was deadlocked, and seemed likely to remain so, when the opportunity to make war on Germany in alliance with France and Russia came up. Redmond was still the leader of an independent Parliamentary faction, free of all Constitutional entanglements under the Crown. He held the balance of power in Parliament, and he had considerable influence with the Liberal back-benches. The Liberal Imperialist faction in the Government could not have carried the Government smoothly into the World War without his approval.
He gave it his unquestioning approval, in an apparent spur of the moment response to Grey's revelation of the obligation of honour speech. He hustled his Party into support for an Imperial War which it had never contemplated.
The leading group in the Government thought it was at serious risk of splitting its own party by declaring war, but, having become thoroughly Imperialist in spirit, it felt under moral obligation to take that risk. The instant, unquestioning, enthusiastic support of the Irish Party did away with the risk—both by maintaining the Government's majority, and by soothing the qualms of the Liberal back-benches.
If the Irish Party had not given its immediate and unquestioning support, but had questioned the Government about the misleading of Parliament, the qualms of the Liberal back-benches would have increased.
If the Irish Party had declared itself against the War, the Liberal Party would have lost its secure majority. It was the active support of the Irish Party that enabled it to launch a Liberal War and maintain that it was for that reason different in kind from all other wars.
The Irish Party must be considered to have been an active party to the launching of the 1914 War of the British Empire.
Irish Party opposition to the War would not have prevented the Liberal Imperialist Cabinet from launching the War, but it would probably have made it a different kind of war, and it would almost certainly have led to a fundamentally different course of events in Ireland.
Irish Party opposition to the War could not have prevented it. The Liberal Government and the Unionist Opposition, which seemed to be on the brink of civil war at home over the issue of Irish Home Rule, were in close collaboration on the matter of war against Germany. The last Unionist Party Government had set up the Committee of Imperial Defence, through which the secret preparations for the War were made, and the Liberal Party had carried through those secret preparations after it won the 1906 Election outright.
The secure Liberal Government of 1906-10 did nothing about Irish Home Rule when its independence of the Irish Party would have maximised the chance of carrying Home Rule. It only took up Home rule after the Liberal Party failed to gain a Parliamentary majority in 1910 and depended on the Irish Party to keep it in Office.
After it failed to win the first 1910 Election, the Liberal Party made a deal with the Irish Party, under which the Irish Party maintained it in Office and joined it in its party conflict with the Unionists over the Budget and the House of Lords, in return for the promise of a Home Rule Bill.
The Irish Party, while refusing to undertake Government responsibility in the UK, gave up its independence of British politics by becoming partisan on a domestic British issue. It became, in effect, a component of the Liberal Party in the great British party dispute of 1910-12.
In 1912 the Liberal Party delivered the promised Home Rule Bill. The Unionist Party declared that it would not recognise a Home Rule Act, carried in this way, as being constitutionally legitimate and would not confine its opposition to Parliamentary debate but would resist the implementation of an Act by physical force if necessary. Its reasoning was that the Irish Party was not a Constitutional Party, in the sense of a Party that would participate in governing the state under the Constitution. The Liberal Party, having twice failed to win an Election in 1910, made a corrupt deal with the Irish Party to break the Constitution. The Unionist Party would therefore, in defence of the Constitution, carry its opposition to a Home Rule Act even to the point of military resistance.
The only Constitutional Court in the British state is the electorate. The Unionist Party said that, if the enactment of Home Rule was put to the electorate, it would accept the decision of the electorate. But it was clear that Unionist reasoning made sense to the electorate. The Government knew that it would lose an Election on the issue. But, if it backed away from its Home Rule Bill, the Irish Party would no longer keep it in Office.
A new Irish nationalist Party had been formed in 1910, the All-For-Ireland League. Its leader, William O'Brien, who had extensive experience of British politics as a Land Leaguer and a Parnellite, warned Redmond that his strategy of currying favour with the Liberals and taking part with them in internal British party-politics in return for Home Rule would not work; and that his aggressive attitude towards the Ulster Unionists would result in Partition. (O'Brien had collaborated with Orangemen in the tenant-right movement and knew they were made of stern stuff.)
Redmond, a "house of Commons man" to the core, saturated with the superficialities of the British system but knowing nothing of its substance, paid no heed. O'Brien's Party stood against the Redmondites in Cork in 1910 and took eight of their nine seats from them. But still Redmond pressed on with his flawed strategy, even though O'Brien's analysis was borne out by events in 1913-14.
By July 1914 both the Liberal Government and its Irish Party prop had boxed themselves into a corner from which there seemed to be no exit. Civil War and humiliating climbdown seemed to be the only possibilities.
And then the miracle happened—the opportunity to launch a World War.
The Liberal Cabinet managed the circumstances well. It nursed the European situation, resulting from the Serbian assassination of the Heir to the Austrian throne, very astutely towards the War for which it had planned. And Redmond, who apparently had given no thought at all to the matter beforehand, rushed blindly for war the moment the opportunity was presented.
Revisionist academics have in recent years discovered the obvious fact that the 1916 Insurrection happened in wartime. They conclude from this that, if there had been no war, there would have been no Insurrection. And some of them (Martin Mansergh, for instance) conclude further that it was the War, rather than the Insurrection that brought about Irish Independence—and that Redmond, the enthusiastic Imperialist warmonger, was the true Fenian.
A moment's reflection would have shown them that it was not the War as such that led to the Insurrection—it was the action of the Home Rule Party in the War.
If Redmond had not supported the War and engaged in active recruiting for it, there would have been no Easter Rising.
Redmond need not have opposed the British war effort, in the active way that Casement did, in order to keep Ireland out of it. He might have just stood back from it. He had not yet become a Minister of the Crown, as he had hoped to be by then, and therefore he remained free of any Constitutional obligations.
He was Home Rule Prime Minister-in-waiting, but so far he had no Ministerial authority, or obligations. And, when the Home Rule Bill was formally enacted in September 1914, with Unionist consent, it was on the condition that it would not be implemented until the end of the War, and that it would be subject to Unionist amendment before implementation. Redmond was free to point out that Ireland was as far from Home Rule as ever and that he would decide what his obligations were in the matter of war and peace when he became a Minister under the Crown.
What choice would the Government have had but to accept the fact of Home Rule neutrality?
Redmond had comprehensive political authority in nationalist Ireland on a de facto basis that had nothing to do with the Crown, and he had a large Volunteer Army that had received a consignment of weapons at the end of July. By standing back from the British war frenzy, at the head of his Volunteer Army, he might have done what Daniel O'Connell had hoped to do at Clontarf—presented Britain with a de facto Irish Government.
Instead of doing that, he rushed to the assistance of the minority Liberal Government and enabled it to launch the War, and then told his constituents that they were under moral obligation to enlist for the War.
If he had not supported the Cabinet, it would have been obliged to make a formal deal with the Unionists; unease on the Liberal back-benches would have intensified; and the Labour MPs who declared against war would have been given cover.
Because of Redmond's decision the War was conducted for eight months by a Liberal Government—that is, a Liberal minority Government, maintained in Office by the Irish Party.
The Unionist Party was much better fitted to fight a cool-headed calculating war for material advantage than the Liberal Party with its broad stratum of Nonconformist moralists. The Liberal Cabinet, whatever its private views, could only carry a united Party to war by reverting to the absolute moralistic style of its Puritan antecedents and making it a moral Crusade to crush a force of pure evil that had arisen in the world, so that there could then be Perpetual Peace.
The Liberal-Irish War for Universal Freedom was a war that offered escape from a hopeless political situation by making total war on a demonised opponent, in pursuit of a mirage.
When that Liberal Government fell in March 1915 and a Liberal/Unionist Coalition was formed, it became a certainty that the "Home Rule Act in the Statute Book" would never be implemented, and that the Liberal Party had used itself up and become a spent force. But Redmond continued with his unconditional support for the War, which had become clearly Imperialist.
Martin Mansergh has quoted the old Fenian maxim, “England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", in a way that suggests he considers it an unworthy sentiment which somehow devalues the ideals of the 1916 Insurrectionaries. (See Irish Political Review, February and March 2017.) But was that really the maxim of 1916?
If Redmond had taken advantage of his strong position in August 1914 to assert an Irish interest that was independent of British Imperial ambitions, and had put himself at the head of a moderately nationalist Ireland that was independent of British politics de facto, that would have been an application of the "England's difficulty" maxim.
But the situation in 1916 was not that of an Ireland availing of heavy British engagement elsewhere to assert its own interest—as Henry Grattan did for the colony in 1782 and as Redmond failed to do for the nation in 1914. It was that of an Ireland that had been blended into the British war effort and was being consumed by it.
The 1916 Insurrection was suppressed by the Army that the Home Rule Party had recruited scores of thousands of Irishmen into, and some of these Irish recruits took part in the re-conquest of central Dublin from the Insurrection.
That is the basis for the revisionist assertion that the 1916 conflict in Dublin was not a struggle between an Irish national force seeking independence and an Imperialist force committed to keeping Ireland in subjection, but was in fact an Irish civil war.
It was not disputable that there were many times as many Irishmen in the British Army in 1916 as were in the Irish Army, and that Irishmen in the British Army took part in the British assault on the Irish Insurrection. The characterisation of the conflict as an Irish civil war is therefore not entirely absurd. But, if it was a kind of Irish civil war, the "England's difficulty" maxim clearly does not apply. Ireland was not standing by as England got itself into serious difficulties elsewhere, and then asserting its own national interest at a favourable moment.
The national event of 1916 was nothing like the colonial event of 1782, to which the Home Rule leaders frequently referred. Grattan had a Volunteer Army, just as Redmond had. But he kept it at home, committing it to the defence of Ireland against the French, who were in alliance with the Americans. He did not send it off to fight against the Americans.
Redmond adopted a position formally similar to Grattan's for about six weeks. He said his Volunteers would defend the Irish coasts against the Germans. But he committed his party to the demonisation of the Germans right from the start. (The Home Rule activists actually led the demonisation propaganda in the London press.) It was only a matter of time until Redmond began recruiting for the British Army instead of his own. He waited until he got the dead letter of a suspended Home Rule Act before he became the chief British recruiter in Ireland.
There had, of course, been large numbers of Irishmen in the British Army before 1914. But they had been drawn from the fragments of the broken Irish society—the Irish society broken by Britain.
The recruiting campaign launched in September 1914 was different in kind. It consigned the national movement, that had been developed painfully and laboriously since the 'Famine', to the British Imperial interest, in a war of destruction against Germany, and, a few months later, a war of conquest against Turkey.
The Home Rule Party integrated itself into the Imperial apparatus of war-making. It did not even bargain away the national interest for something tangible. It just gave it away for a dead Home Rule Act.
The Insurrection asserted the national interest against the Empire. Redmond denounced it as an act of treason. If nationalist Ireland is regarded as having given its allegiance to the Empire through Redmond's actions, then it certainly was treason. The Imperial allegiance of Ireland began with Redmond—and it ended with him.
But when did Redmond receive the authority of the nation to pledge its allegiance to the Empire? When was he made the national Plenipotentiary?
There was no hint of such a thing in the 1910 Election Manifesto of the Party. The next Election, that of 1915, was cancelled by the Liberal/Unionist Coalition with Redmond's support. He agreed that the governing of Ireland should be conducted by a British Government based on an unelected Parliament—a Parliament living beyond its electoral mandate—until the end of the War. And the end of the War would come when the German, Austrian and Turkish states were destroyed, and Central Europe and the Middle East were in chaos.
Chaos happens when states are destroyed by external forces and placed at the mercy of the conqueror. In earlier times wars were ended by negotiation between the belligerent states, on terms that were appropriate to what had emerged during a temporary trial of strength. It was made clear from the very start, in August 1914, by the moralistic Crusading spirit of the Liberal war propaganda that justified the War to "the Nonconformist conscience", that a negotiated settlement was out of the question. It was to be Total War until the enemy, the personification of Evil in the world, was crushed. And the Irish Party participated in it in that spirit.
Redmond gave away the Irish national interest to what was perhaps the worst of England's many bad wars. And he did it, without warning of any kind, apparently on the spur of the moment in the House of Commons, in response to Grey's notorious speech of August 3rd.
John Redmond: National Leader—that is the title of Volume 2 of a massive biography of Redmond by Dermot Meleady published in 2014. It was on 3rd August 1914 that he made himself National Leader. Until that moment he had been one of three.
When the Party factions of the Parnell split were forced back together under pressure of William O'Brien's land agitation in 1900, Redmond was made nominal leader out of sentimental regard for Parnell. (He had stood by Parnell in 1891 when Parnell was wrecking the Party, rather than negotiate a compromise that would enable Gladstone to handle "the Nonconformist conscience".) But it was understood that the leadership was to be collective, representing the factions that had united. In 1914 there was an effective triumvirate, consisting of John Dillon, Joseph Devlin and Redmond.
Redmond acted alone in Parliament in Parliament on 3rd August, committing nationalist Ireland to support for Imperial war. From that moment on the game was his to play, and he relished that position.
Dillon, who dealt with foreign affairs, was not in Parliament on 3rd August. On the day after the declaration of war he wrote to his Party colleague, T.P. O'Connor:
"The world is now reaping the bitter harvest of Grey's foreign policy which for years I have denounced to deaf ears."
Two days later he wrote to C.P. Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian:
"It is the greatest crime against humanity perpetrated in modern times and I cannot help feeling that England must bear a considerable share of the responsibility for it…"
On 12th August he wrote to Scott that the heaviest share of the guilt lay with "the new English foreign policy identified with Rosebery and Grey":
"I take for granted that Germany will be beaten. But after a titanic struggle and great Heaven—what a prospect for Europe. If Germany is beaten, Germany and Austria will be dissolved, and good-bye to peace in Europe for some generations.
"I must say that my experience in the House of Commons during the last five years in trying to interest Liberals in what seemed to me the manifest and irresistible trend of Grey's policy has been the most disheartening in my long public life…"
Dillon was in substantial agreement with Casement.
Casement, holding Britain effectively responsible for the War, opposed Irish nationalist participation in it, aligned himself with Germany, and tried to raise an Irish Brigade from prisoners-of-war in Germany.
Dillon wrote private letters of protest, and let Redmond determine Party policy.
I have quoted Dillon's letters from the 1968 biography by F.S.L. Lyons, a Professor at Canterbury University, published by Routledge. If the publishing of a Dillon biography had been left to a post-1970 academic in an Irish University and an Irish publisher, I doubt that Dillon's foreign policy views would have been allowed much expression. Revisionism does not tolerate prurient curiosity about historical facts of life.
Lyons, of course, does not discuss the merit of Dillon's views on Foreign Office policy. He only quotes a few sentences from Dillon's letters at the time, before commenting: "This was a highly individual, idiosyncratic, view" (p355).
It was in fact the view of the major Government newspapers, the Daily News and Manchester Guardian up to the moment war was declared.
Both papers changed their opinion in response to the declaration of war. But it was not a reasoned change of opinion. It was not that they came to see that there was a flaw in their reasoning before August 4th. It was a change of view brought about by a mental faculty that was more powerful than the reasoning faculty. That faculty, which lies beyond reason, and is highly developed in English political culture, caused them to adapt wholeheartedly to the accomplished fact of the declaration of war and to forget that only a day or two earlier they had reasoned acutely that a declaration of war would be a crime against Europe.
After August the 4th they blotted out what they had argued forcibly before August the 3rd. They did not remember. But, before August the third, they had foreseen what they would do if the Government committed the crime against which they were warning.
Dillon's correspondent, C.P. Scott, Editor of the Manchester Guardian, said before the event that reasoning would have to stop if war was declared. But he could not bring himself to write the hysterical Germanophobic editorials required for the kind of war declared by the Government. He handed over editorial writing for a while to his Assistant Editor, who was also his son-in-law: Irish Home Ruler, C.E. Montagu. (Montagu editorialised himself into insisting on enlisting, even though he was middle-aged. He found that he just loved war, especially being under bombardment in the front lines.)
The overnight change from reasoning against the war to warmongering could only be irrational, hysterical. And the whole process of the War, on the political side, and of the destructive peace that was implemented at the end of it (bearing out Dillon's prediction) was hysterical.
The great Liberal turnabout was the clearest case of "My country, right or wrong!” that I have ever come across. Liberalism was not prepared for it. And the Liberal Party did not survive it.
To show how far from individualist idiosyncrasy Dillon's, and therefore Casement's opinions were, here is a sample of what the most powerful organs of the Liberal press were saying up to August 4th. Here is the Manchester Guardian:
"We are friends with every Power in Europe. Why give preference to one friend over another? Because, says the Times, it is our settled interest and traditional policy to uphold the balance of power in Europe. Away with that foul idol, as Bright called it… But if we must worship the idol, how should we serve it better by throwing our influence on the side of Russia than on the side of Germany? Why strengthen the hand that is already beating us in Persia, and which, if it triumphed over Germany, would presently be felt in Afghanistan and on our frontiers in India?…"
"So long as we remain neutral we are safer against attack now than at any time, for no nation wishes to provoke our enmity…
"The House of Commons, which should be the guardian of the national interests at such a time as this, is discussing the Milk and Dairies Bill. (Mr. Asquith calls that 'presenting a united front to the nations of Europe'), and there are rumours that it will in a few days be adjourned as a useless encumbrance on the full freedom of the Executive, only to be called together again in case money should be required for a war already determined upon. Everywhere there is evidence of organisation for war; nowhere a sign that the forces of peace are being mobilised…"
"Russia has ordered a general mobilisation. Germany has proclaimed martial law… and may begin at any moment now to mobilise… We advise Englishmen that they have no sympathy to spare for Europe. Let them keep it for themselves, and think first of all for England, for English honour and English interests. For there is in our midst an organised conspiracy to drag us into the war… 'Conspiracy' we say because it is disloyal to Parliament, which is the constitutional guardian of national interests in times of crisis. The conspirators prefer the confidence of selected newspaper editors to that of the representatives of the people…
"If Russia wins there will be the greatest disturbance of the balance of power that the world has ever seen. The whole conditions of our existence as an Asiatic Power will have to be revised, and all over the world, wherever we come into contest with Russia, we shall have a repetition of the self-effacement which we have witnessed in Persia. The victory of Germany, on the other hand, would in effect be a victory for the principle of the balance of power. If we believed in this principle, which we do not, then we might be for intervention on the side of Germany. Because we do not believe in it we are able without the least misgiving, to counsel neutrality as the right policy for this country…
August 3rd (Monday)
"Saturday and Sunday were the fateful days of a century. On Saturday Germany declared war on Russia… Germany was not free to choose; whether war was to come depended not so much on what she did as on what Russia meant to do. Having convinced herself, and not without cause, that Russia meant war, she conceived that her policy was one for her soldiers to determine on purely military grounds… Germany's position is graver than it has been since the days of the great Frederic. With the genius and the brilliancy of France on the one flank and the overwhelming numbers of Russia on the other she felt herself fighting against the odds for her very existence. The only chance, she probably reflected, lay in taking her enemies in detail and in flinging herself on the one before the other was fully prepared. It was a desperate calculation, but so was her case. From Italy she will get no help, and Austria will be hard put to it to deal with Servia… Sooner or later she will bear the whole brunt of the war with France and Russia at once. And she was uncertain of the neutrality of England. Therefore she decided to strike the first blow. We deeply regret it, but we understand. Nor shall we apply a harsh judgment to what man or nation does for very life's sake…
"England alone of the Great Powers stood quite outside the entanglements of the European system which is now breaking up. Italy was involved… but she has managed by a great effort to extricate herself…"
(Italy was in a Treaty with Germany and Austria, but left it at this point. A few months later it was brought into the war against Austria by a British offer to it of Austrian territory.)
"If and when England joins in the war it will be too late to discuss its policy. Meanwhile we hold it to be a patriotic duty for all good citizens to oppose to the utmost the participation of this country in the greatest crime of our time. Sir Edward Grey's speech last night, for all its appearance of candour, was not fair either to the House of Commons or to the country. It showed that for years he had been keeping back the whole truth and telling just enough to lull into a false sense of security, not enough to enable the country to form a reasoned judgment on the current of our policy… It is a mockery to throw on the House of Commons the responsibility of deciding at a moment's notice and in circumstances of great excitement on a policy that has been maturing for years. Had the House of Commons as whole risen to the full height of its duty it would have shown itself wiser than its rulers. But a minority did protest…"
(This refers to the speech by Bonar Law that inspired John Redmond to declare support for a declaration of war.)
"England declared war upon Germany at eleven o'clock last night. The controversy therefore is now at an end. Our front is united…"
"There must be few people in England so cold that their hearts have not glowed as they read the wonderful succession of telegrams from every part of the Empire during the last ten days. No sooner was England's danger known than the most splendid offers of spontaneous help began to flow in on her from every continent in the world…"
"The war does not change what we think of Schubert and Schumann, of Lessing and Hegel… What we must feel is that the greater and nobler Germany… has suffered a horrible entanglement in the coarse materialism of Prussian ambitions. The greater Germany cannot be disentangled now; that is the horrible part of it; her own loyalty to her betrayers makes it impossible to hope, as yet, for any appreciable division of feeling in Germany. Europe must either smash Prussian Junkerdom or be smashed by it…"
This editorial is titled The Two Germanies. It is the voice of Liberal England that has submitted to the other England and become part of it—the other England with which, after two years of intensifying Home Rule conflict, it had come to the brink of civil war with in late July.
The Daily News followed the same course of transition as the Manchester Guardian, but it set out more clearly than the Guardian that Britain could set stiff terms on Germany for its Neutrality, and that Germany had requested Britain to set its terms. For a start, the German Navy would have been immobilised. The scope of the war could have been limited in other respects as well. And Britain could, with advantage to itself, have exerted pressure for a negotiated settlement, and acted as arbiter at the peace negotiation:
"It would seem… that if we are not yet at war with Germany, war is a matter of hours, and the Government has taken measures in anticipation of conflict. The fleet has been mobilised, and the Army is mobilising… Sir Edward Grey suggested that so far as the economic consequences to this country are concerned, there is no appreciable difference between the loss we should suffer if we remained neutral and the loss we shall suffer by entering the fray. Sir Edward is not well versed in economics and we fear he has greatly misapprehended the matter. If we remained neutral we should be, from the commercial point of view, in precisely the same position as the United States. We should be able to trade with all the belligerents (so far as the war allows a trade with them); we should be able to capture the bulk of their trade in neutral markets; we should keep our expenditure down; we should keep out of debt; we should have healthy finances. There can be no reasonable doubt that the economic effects of the policy of war will be of the gravest character. That quite apart from the political consequences…"
"There are some who think it [the War] will be brief because Germany will soon exhaust her resources. Much as we should like to think so we cannot believe it. Seldom, if ever, has a great State been stopped in war from lack of funds, and a nation of the temper of the Germans engaged in what they believe to be a life and death struggle will assuredly fight so long as fighting is possible.
"For us, too, this war is now a question of life and death. Being in we must win, but we must endeavour at no moment in the struggle to lose our command of the situation or our power to determine that the reorganised Europe which will follow on our victory shall be one which fortifies British security and does not ruin European civilization…"
But the war, of course, accelerated out of control.
On August 10th the Daily News published a sensationalist article by Mr. Redmond's rottweiler, T.M. Kettle, which expressed the Crusading frenzy that was the only mode in which the Liberal mind could free itself from the Liberalism of Cobden and Bright in order to fight a war: Europe Against The Barbarians.
A short while later H.G. Wells fed the great delusion with a pamphlet entitled The War That Will End War. But it was the Home Rule intellectual cum political activist, T.M. Kettle, who pioneered the debasement of the English Liberal mind:
"What is the stake for which we are playing? It is as simple as it is colossal. It is Europe against the barbarians… The 'big blonde brute' has stepped from the pages of Nietzsche out on to the plains about Liege…"
The cry was taken up on all sides. The Manchester Guardian resisted that ultimate degradation of Liberal thought for a couple of weeks, but resistance was hopeless. Kettle prevailed. Historical Liberalism—the produce of the Great Reform and the repeal of the Corn Laws—was doomed.
The intellect and spirit of historical Liberalism found expression after August 4th 1914 in Casement's articles in the Continental Times.
Casement was a mainstream Liberal of the final phase of the Liberal era. He was also a mainstream Home Ruler of the period when Liberalism and Home Rule were blended ideologically and had become like Siamese twins organisationally.
He ran guns for the Irish Volunteers. That was the action of a well-connected Liberal Home Ruler.
An Ulster Volunteer Force, backed by the British Unionist Party, the Parliamentary Opposition, was formed to prevent the implementation of a Home Rule Act. The Irish Volunteers were formed, in response to the UVF, to support the Home Rule Act. The initiative in the forming of the Irish Volunteers was taken by Eoin MacNeill, a professor of ancient Irish History who was active in politics without ever quite knowing what he was doing. Mac'Neill's initiative was given organisational reality by a remnant of the Republican conspiracy of the 1860s, the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Redmond did not support the project at the start (in November 1913), but neither did he oppose it. William O'Brien of the All for Ireland League did oppose it. He asked who were the Volunteers to fight? The Northern Protestants? A part of the Nation?
The UVF was armed in March 1914. The British Army officers at the Curragh let the Government know that they would not act to impose a Home Rule Act on Ulster. The British Unionist Party supported that "Curragh Mutiny". The Mutiny was warded off by the Secretary for War who, supposedly without Government authority, gave the Curragh officers a guarantee that there would be no coercion of Ulster—no enforcement of the impending Act of Parliament on it. Because of the pretence that he acted without the knowledge of the Government, the War Secretary resigned. The Prime Minister did not replace him. The post of War Secretary was a delicate one because of the secret military preparations being made with France for war with Germany. And so, as the Home Rule conflict reached the point of climax in late July with the shootings at Bachelor's Walk (of civilians bearing nationalist arms to Dublin) and the opportunity to put into effect the preparations that had been made for war with Germany occurred simultaneously, the State was without a War Secretary—a fact which possibly influenced how the War was fought.
Volunteering had become serious business after the arming of the Ulster Volunteers. Redmond, facing a provincial rival with an Army which was backed by the Opposition in Parliament, demanded that he, as leader of the Irish Party, and close ally of the Liberal Government, should have control of the Irish Volunteers.
Casement supported his demand, and used his influence with MacNeill's Provisional Committee to ensure that control of the Volunteers was ceded to the Party.
The Irish Party now had its own army. Under Redmond's leadership the Volunteers increased by leaps and bounds. And Casement saw to the arming of them. A shipment of guns was landed at Howth on July 25th, and a point was made by marching them openly into central Dublin the following day. (The UVF arms importation had been done furtively under cover of night.)
The march was fired on by the Army in Bachelors Walk and three were killed with 45 wounded. The crisis headlines the following morning were not about the dangerous situation in Europe. They were about the dangerous domestic situation. The possibility of civil war had been evident since March—and it would have been a British civil war and not something that could be passed off as an Irish faction fight. The Bachelors Walk shooting might have been the incident that carried things over the brink.
Is it credible that this domestic situation had no bearing on the decision of the Government to shape the European conflict towards war, and then to mislead the German Government about British attitudes to Belgium and exert some pressure on the Belgians, in order to have a 'moral' case for British participation?
Was Redmond entirely unaware of all of this? And had he never noticed what Dillon had been trying to tell Parliament about British policy?
The Meleady biography presents him as a mindless innocent carried away by Grey's rhetoric on August 3rd, and praises him for being so:
"The Foreign Secretary made it clear that Britain must intervene either if the German fleet came up the Channel to attack France, or if Belgium was invaded. As Redmond listened he turned to John Hayden, MP for Roscommon South… and said 'I'm thinking of saying something. I'm going to tell them they can take all their troops out of Ireland and we will defend the country ourselves. With Hayden's assent, but against the advice of [John?] O'Connor, he rose to speak of past estrangements of nationalist Ireland in crises similar to that now facing the Empire… The 18th century Volunteers had sprung into existence in 1778 when the shores of Ireland were threatened by foreign invasion, enrolling both Catholics and Protestants. May history repeat itself. Today there are in Ireland two large bodies of Volunteers… I say that the coast of Ireland will be defended from foreign invasion by her armed sons…' Stephen Gwynn described the reaction of the electrified House…
"He,[Redmond] later told an American correspondent that he realized the risk of acting alone at a moment's notice, but 'had not a moment's hesitation in making up my mind what I should do;…" (The National Leader p297).
The offer to defend Ireland with a joint Nationalist/Ulster Unionist Army was an absurdity, unless it is taken to be a propagandist debating point. The small German Navy was bottled up by the world-dominating Royal Navy. And joint action by Ulster Unionists and Nationalists for an Irish national purpose was cloud-cuckoo land. But the statement could have served as a holding operation, a debating point serving some other purpose.
But Redmond was understood by the House to have declared full support for the War. And, although that was not in his words, there is no reason to suppose that the House misunderstood him.
For about six weeks Redmond defended Ireland from an impossible German invasion—and was jeered at by the Irish Times.
He had a meeting with Lord Kitchener—who was appointed to the vacant post of War Secretary by popular acclaim, and declared it would be a long War to be fought by mass armies.
Kitchener, an Englishman from Kerry, would have no truck with any project for an Irish Army in the War.
Meleady does not refer to Dillon's views on British war policy. The nearest he comes to it is this: "Dillon was… less moved by the crusading emotions that caused Redmond to fly the Union Jack alongside the Irish flag" (p320).
Redmond needed a dead-letter Home Rule Act in order to begin recruiting in earnest. He got this in mid-September 1914. The Unionists agreed to putting it in the Statute Book on the strict condition that it would never be implemented, and that after the war it should resume the status of a Bill and go back into debate.
While this was being negotiated the Unionists accused Redmond of going back on his declaration of unconditional loyalty of August 3rd. Meleady comments: "Redmond rejected the charge of conditional loyalty as 'ungenerous and unjust'…" (p305).
The Unionists granted him, in mid-September, the dead-letter Home Rule Act that was never to be implemented; he became a recruiter; the Commons sang "God Save Ireland"; and the new policy was published in the party newspaper, the Freeman's Journal. Then he went home to Wicklow and:
"At Woodenbridge… he came upon a meeting of the East Wicklow Volunteers. His short impromptu address to them did not go further than his manifesto, but has become far better known… Their duty was twofold: to go on drilling, and then to 'account yourselves as men, not only in Ireland but wherever the firing-line extends, in defence of right, of freedom and of religion in this war'. It would be 'a disgrace forever to Ireland, and a reproach to her manhood' if young Irishmen were to stay at home to defend the island's shores from an unlikely invasion" (Meleady p307).
That speech split the Volunteers. The original Committee re-asserted itself, taking about 12,000 and leaving over 140,000 with Redmond.
"Redmond… did not equivocate regarding the dissidents, telling Irish Party supporter Alice Stopford Green: '…if they are honest men, it means that they are radically opposed in policy to the constitutional party and to the principle of Home Rule, and are, therefore, to be fought vigorously and remorselessly by us, who believe in the constitutional movement and in Home Rule as a settlement of the Irish question;…" (p308).
Reviewing Meleady's biography in the Irish Times (25.1.2014), Roy Foster comments:
"There is an argument, indeed, that his Woodenbridge speech, where he committed the movement to fighting for the allies, was part of a deliberate ploy to drive out the extremists. Here and elsewhere, he was a formidable political operator."
The extremists in late September 1914 were people who had joined the Volunteers in the Summer to support the enactment of the Home Rule Bill and who did not see their way to shepherding Irishmen by the thousand to the slaughter-house in France after Home Rule had been set aside indefinitely, and after the Unionists had been given a guarantee that the Bill introduced in 1912, and as passed three times by the Commons, would never be implemented.
Redmond's letter to A.S. Green says that he will tolerate nothing but unconditional British loyalty in his Volunteers. All who hold to the very conditional loyalty of the original movement, in which there was no hint of an obligation to fight Britain's wars, are to be driven out. What Foster sees as a master-stroke was a policy of driving consistent Home Rulers of the pre-August 3rd kind into the arms of the IRB.
This is the sense in which the Insurrection a year and a half later can be seen as a product of the World War.
In July 1914 Casement was a mainstream Liberal and a mainstream Home Ruler within an apparently evolving British Liberal civilisation. He did nothing to disrupt that evolution, any more than Pearse or Connolly did. But he was an integral and active part of that civilisation, as Pearse and Connolly were not. That is possibly why he felt under obligation to act so quickly and decisively when he saw it being wrecked by Redmond's collusion with Grey.
He had noticed an element in the Foreign Office that seemed to be engaged in systematic diplomatic preparation for a war that would throttle Germany, but it still came as a shock to him when that element was given its head by a Liberal Government to put its policy into effect.
He shared the pre-War views of the Daily News and the Manchester Guardian but, while they dropped their principles on the declaration of war, he maintained his: even at the cost of setting himself at odds with Redmond's Irish Party and the British mainstream.
Casement supported Germany as the victim. He went to Germany. His German Diary, published in 2017 by Angus Mitchell, shows him becoming disillusioned by Germany. An element in that disillusionment was the persisting Anglophilia which he saw in German political circles, and the absence of the balance-of-power understanding that was ingrained in English political culture.
Germany could not make war as England did. It had not prepared for war with England and found difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that England had made war on it.