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LEINSTER LEADER EDITORIAL 8 JANUARY 1916

NAAS, SATURDAY,  JANUARY 8, 1916.

COMPULSORY MILITARY SERVICE

The campaign of the conscriptionists has at length culminated in the adoption of the principle of compulsory military service by the British Cabinet, and the formulation of a system whereby un-married men will be rendered liable to serve as soldiers. The bill, in brief, is confined to the area of Great Britain, and applies to all British subjects between the ages of 18 and 41 on 15th August last who were un-married, or were widowers without children dependent upon them. The broad fact remains that conscription has been accepted and adopted by the Cabinet and the country committed to one of the worst phases of that militarism, the destruction of which, we were told was one of the objects for which the Allied nations were fighting. The triumph of the politicians who advocated conscription in England is qualified by the skilful manner in which the political crisis precipitated thereby was averted, because the political elements that promoted the campaign had probably more than the success of the latter in view. They hoped that the adherents of the voluntary system of military service amongst ministers would tender their resignations rather than accept the principle of compulsion, and thereby create a crisis which could only end in a General Election, and the ultimate destruction of the Government. But the Prime Minister and his political advisers have evidently proved more than a match for their opponents, and the crisis has as we have said, been averted, but at the cost of the surrender of ministers to a principle which has yet to stand the best of practical application before it can be said to relieve the empire from the position in which it finds itself today. It has yet to be demonstrated that a conscript army is better than one organised on the voluntary principle, and if comparisons have to be made with continental countries in the work accomplished during the present war, can it be consistently claimed that the conscript armies have proved themselves superior in any of those qualities that go to make fighting efficiency to the voluntary troops of England? It may be answered that conscription would give the Government more men to prosecute the war. This no doubt is true; but the Government can only efficiently arm, equip, officer, and control a certain number of men, and that it had its hands full in meeting those requirements ever since the war broke did not need professional training to observe. And, furthermore, it is questionable whether the Derby Scheme of voluntary recruiting had got a fair trial, or its results impartially examined and considered before the crisis on conscription was precipitated and rushed to finality in order to meet a political expediency and preserve the Government from the machinations of its opponents. But if it is a matter of numbers rather than efficiency, that compulsory military service ought to be adopted. We have the example of Russia, which the London press has repeatedly reiterated, has inexhaustible resources in men who are only prevented from over-running the Central nations by the lack of munitions. Is not this a similar position to that in which Great Britain found itself when the Northcliffe press started its campaign against the Government which culminated in the recognition of the fact that the artillery at the front was inefficiently fed with ammunition, the creation of a munitions department and the establishment of factories for supplies all over the country? Great Britain has now been committed to the adoption of a system of militarism which for the moment can be only regarded as experimental at home, but in enemy countries will in all probability be construed as an admission, and the outcome of a serious situation. Its acceptance and effects on the English people are matters of speculation, but that it must have reactionary consequences on British notions of liberty is to be expected. It may have redeeming points to recommend it to the military needs of the hour; but that it has evils that will more than counteract these we have we have on the authority of those familiar with its operation and effects on other countries. One of the most active members of the voluntary recruiting campaign in Ireland is perhaps, The O’Mahony, and his associations with and philanthropic enterprises amongst the Bulgars entitle him to speak with some authority on the subject of conscription and its effects in the Balkan and other nations. Writing to the “Freeman’s Journal” on 17th November last with reference to the appeal of the Archbishop of Glasgow for voluntary recruits, and his comments on the danger and evil of conscription as revealed in the present State of Greece, The O’Mahony says: – “Bulgaria is, I think, a stronger instance of the power for evil which conscription places in the hands of a monarch and his military Turkish yoke by Russia. The liberty was increased and continued mainly by the help of Great Britain during the Premiership of Mr. Gladstone from 1880 to 1885. In this war the great mass of the Bulgarian people and the leaders of all of all political parties except the one forming the present Government are in full sympathy with the Allies. The Government dare not convoke the Sobranje, because the majority of the Deputies are against its present ruinous policy. The King ordered a mobilisation professedly for an armed neutrality. As soon as the mobilisation was completed he compelled his army of conscripts, rendered power-less to express their opinions, to attack Serbia and their Allies. Since my return from the East of Europe, shortly before Whitsuntide, I have addressed 85 recruiting meetings in Ireland, because I realise fully that everything I value as an Irishman is at stake in the issue of this war. I also realise that my honour as an Irish Nationalist, who has accepted the Home Rule Bill, is at stake. I have constantly, however, stated that I viewed conscription with horror. Speaking at Terenure on Saturday, October 2nd, I said that I had, assisted in voluntary recruiting with all the energy of which I was capable, but that I would oppose conscription with the same energy if it were ever sought to impose such an evil burden on Ireland. I am still ready to do my utmost to further voluntary recruiting, but conscription will never receive anything from me but the most bitter opposition. We are at war to destroy militarism, not to place ourselves under its heavy yoke. As to the position of Ireland in relation to this fateful decision of the Government, it raises issues of the most vital importance and gravity to our future. The foregoing extract, we presume, fairly reflects the views and attitude of the Irish party and of the Irish people generally on the question of compulsory military service; but there are other complications which are likely to arise from the situation and which must afford grounds for grave anxiety. It has been suggested in political circles in London that possibly the opposition of the Irish Party may be brought on operation of conscription, while in unionist circles evidences are not wanting that capital will be made out of this to destroy Home Rule. In other words an attempt is likely to be made that Home Rule in any form will be made contingent upon the acceptance by Ireland of compulsory military service. Having regard to the temper and attitude of the Irish people on the question, the unionists will thus exploit the situation to show that Ireland, by shirking its share of the obligations undertaken by the rest of the empire, does not merit Home Rule. The suggestion may be regarded as a dishonest political subterfuge; but that it could be made to work infinite mischief amongst those upon whom we are dependent for such a concession is quite possible. The delicacy of such a situation can not, therefore, be exaggerated, and the action of the Parliamentary representatives of the Irish people will be awaited with all the concern and anxiety which the occasion demands. Of course the circumstances in England and Ireland differ very widely in their economic and political positions and, we might add, their sentimental predelictions towards the war. Ireland has not the proportion of available men of military age that England, Scotland, or Wales can boast, and still less can she afford, owing to her agricultural necessities, to spare many more men for the front. All authorities admit and applaud the response made to the call for men, and thus notwithstanding that the country had not the same direct incentives that prevailed on the other side of the Channel. It is, therefore, plainly-obvious that if it has been found necessary to compel men of military age to enlist in England, this not true of Ireland, and that any application of a compulsory system of military service would be unjustifiable and regarded as but a poor recompense for the spirit of self-sacrifice already shown. But unfortunately the tendency of the British Legislature is to give Ireland also the benefit of legislation passed to meet British requirements, especially in matters relating to the need for men and money. So far Ireland escapes this objectionable measure, but if the needs and necessities of the future demand it, the danger remains that it will be extended in its operation in England, and eventually include Ireland. It is the danger that invests the attitude and action of the Irish Parliamentary Party with so much importance at such a juncture, and as we have already pointed out in these columns, the Party is opposed to conscription on grounds of principle rather on the particular place of operation. The progress of proceedings in Parliament will be followed with keen interest, and as the Bill is not likely to have a smooth passage, the ultimate result is doubtful; but if it should be defeated, then a General Election with all its serious consequences in such circumstances is not unlikely.

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