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LEINSTER LEADER EDITORIAL 15 JANUARY 1916

NAAS, SATURDAY,  JANUARY 15, 1916.

CONSCRIPTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

The situation with regard to the Conscription Bill continued to be the all-absorbing topic of discussion during the week and speculation as to its ultimate fate evoked varying opinions which only served to emphasise the uncertainty as to the result and its probable effects. The attitude of the Labour Party was regarded as the principal pivot round which the fate of the measure revolved and the splitting of that Party on the question further complicated matters. Hopes were entertained that although the Labour Ministers who tendered these resignations in accordance with the demand of the Party that some arrangement would be arrived at by which Mr. Asquith would induce them to withdraw these. Meanwhile the decision to revive the Derby voluntary group system of recruiting has been met with much success and high hopes were entertained of the possibility of there being little left for compulsion of the 650,000 men eligible for attestation. This, to some extent justifies the comment we ventured last week that the Derby system and its results did not secure a fair or impartial examination or trial before the Government was forced by the tactics of the conscriptionists to introduce the Compulsory Bill. Furthermore, the success attending the Derby system of voluntary recruiting was expected to have the effect of checking the operations of the conscriptionists, but warnings were not wanting that it would be unwise to presume too much on this possibility, as it was evident from their organs that they regarded the introduction of the Compulsion Bill as but the thin end of the wedge towards a scheme of general conscription applicable to Great Britain and Ireland. The fact that Ireland is at present excluded from the present Bill does not, therefore, obviate the danger of compulsory military service for this country in the future. As to the position outside Parliament, the temper of the masses in England towards the principle of compulsion is indicated by the scenes of turbulence witnessed at a great meeting of railway workers addressed by Mr. J. H. Thomas, M.P., at Cardiff, on Saturday. At that meeting a resolution was proposed in favour of over-throwing militarism and by national unity bringing the war to a successful conclusion, but viewing with regret, the act of the Government in deciding for compulsory recruiting, and imploring them to withdraw the proposal as every call yet made had been responded to by the free men of the country. Mr. Thomas in the course of his speech touched on the point that we ventured last week when we questioned the propriety of replacing the army raised under the voluntary system by an army of conscripts at such a juncture. If the object was not to make for efficiency, then it must be for a sufficiency of men in the field; but as Mr. Thomas pointed out, “there never had been the question that there had not been a sufficiency of men in any of the big battles in France. There were two millions of men in Russia who were handicapped without rifles today, and was it fair to raise more men unless they could be equipped?” These arguments endorse in every respect our remarks on the subject last week. But we might supplement them further by the lessons which other countries have learned and their experiences of compulsory military service. France and Austria have not always proved the superiority of conscript armies over those raised under the voluntary system, and they found that something was fundamentally wrong with their forces when, on looking back, they found that whereas in Frederick the Great’s time 10,000 to the mile was really the utmost needed to overcome a resistance far more obstinate in its character than anything that continental troops had been able to put up during the Napoleonic Wars, they saw themselves obliged to provide 30,000 to 40,000 men to the mile of position, and were forced to concentrate even these within themselves in order to break through an enemies position. In the Peninsular Wars it had been proved again and again that two lines of disciplined troops raised under the voluntary system i.e., 10,000 men to the mile still sufficed when pitted against all that a conscript army could oppose to it. The proposal for compulsory military service is by no means the outcome of the situation arising from the present war, as the system has been advocated in the Service Clubs for many years past, and the late Lord Roberts was one of its most insistent advocates. Amongst the military element now so largely increased in numbers and influence by the existence of the war, the system is today more than ever favoured, although there are some dissentients amongst those in the higher commands but these are few. In the event of a general election on this question, the influence and effect of this element has not been lost sight of, and the matter of extending to soldiers on active service by means of a plebiscite or other expedient, a vote on the question has been discussed in different organs of public opinion in England. Colonel F. N. Maude, C. B., discussing this aspect of voluntary versus compulsory service in an article contributed to the Contemporary Review as far back as 1911 alludes to the danger of the picked and trained men of the country combining for the purpose of forcing a Compulsory Service Scheme upon the country and his observations and conclusions are interesting just now when the contingency he was anticipating has almost materialised. The whole adult population of the country being in 1901 something under 12 millions, including cripples, inmates of asylums, &c., he concluded that he seemed morally certain that the number of picked and trained men must be at least one-third, probably more, of the electorate. This would give them a marked preponderance over the Labour Vote or any other Class vote in the country but as a “psychological crowd,” they were yet unaware of their own existence. Individually they were full of patriotism and fully recognised the great advantage that each man felt he personally derived from military training and, therefore, when told by a distinguished office that the country was a danger and that only compulsory service could save it, what could be more natural than their spontaneous consent to his proposition? The late Lord Roberts estimated that the defence of these islands needed but a million men, and if this were so, he proved the case against compulsory service, because Voluntary Service then provided the equivalent of at least half as many again. But if must be admitted that the defence of these islands is entirely a different matter from the needs of the Empire when involved in a general European war, exemplified in the present great upheaval. The organisation of huge armies to aid the Allied continental nations in their great land campaign was not evidently a possibility entertained by the conscriptionists of pre-war days, or if it was held to be remote. But the present outbreak has upset many military calculations as to the possible course and trend of events, and instead of one million the demand is for millions. The empire, as far as population is concerned, was quite capable of meeting these demands, but as the men were not enrolling fast enough, advantage was taken of the prevailing slackness to force the issue of the conscription on the Coalition Government. The debate on the second reading of the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday allowed the course generally anticipated, and the result, although at the opening of the week doubtful did not occasion much surprise. The only incident of importance to this country was the changed attitude of the Irish Party towards the Bill. Although they voted against it on its introduction they abstained from voting either way when it came on for second reading. This attitude won the approval of Sir Edward Carson who in a remarkable speech accepted Mr. Redmond’s statement rectifying the action of the Irish Party in deciding to refrain from further opposition to the Bill, and regretting that he could not go further and vote for the conscription Bill. “Nothing,” Sir Edward Carson assure him “would be more likely to bring them together on some sort of common platform than that they should find Ireland and England and Scotland absolutely unanimous in what they thought was necessary for the carrying on of that war.” What effect all this will have in this country remains to be seen, having regard to the fact that the people were assured that the Irish Party were opposed to conscription on principal. Of course, as Mr. Redmond pointed out, it is a purely British Bill and there was a British majority in favour of it, and in these circumstances he felt that to continue opposition to a purely British Bill would be to incur a responsibility heavier than the Party could face. But the Party voted against it on its introduction, and, furthermore Mr. Redmond reserves to himself and the party the right to take part in discussions on the Bill and to vote for amendments during the Committee stage. It must be inferred now that the Party as a whole has abandoned opposition to the principle of compulsion, because Mr. Redmond made it clear that although hostility to it has been abandoned, it might become necessary for himself and his colleagues to support amendments to improve the Bill. Meanwhile rumours of a rupture in the Party arising from differences between Mr. Redmond and Mr. Dillon on the subject of conscription are given much prominence in the Tory press. That there are such differences Mr. Dillon’s latest speech would seem to indicate but the possibility of a rupture is remote. Developments in Parliament and the operation of the Bill in Great Britain will be followed with undiminished interest in this country.

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