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Peace Theories and the Balkan War By Norman Angell Characters: 15114

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Peace" in the Balkans under the Turkish System-The inadequacy of our terms-The repulsion of the Turkish invasion-The Christian effort to bring the reign of force and conquest to an end-The difference between action designed to settle relationship on force and counter action designed to prevent such settlement-The force of the policeman and the force of the brigand-The failure of conquest as exemplified by the Turk-Will the Balkan peoples prove Pacifist or Bellicist; adopt the Turkish or the Christian System?

Had we thrashed out the question of war and peace as we must finally, it would hardly be necessary to explain that the apparent paradox in Answer No. 4 (that war is futile, and that this war will have immense benefits) is due to the inadequacy of our language, which compels us to use the same word for two opposed purposes, not to any real contradiction of fact.

We called the condition of the Balkan peninsula "Peace" until the other day, merely because the respective Ambassadors still happened to be resident in the capitals to which they were accredited.

Let us see what "Peace" under Turkish rule really meant, and who is the real invader in this war. Here is a very friendly and impartial witness-Sir Charles Elliot-who paints for us the character of the Turk as an "administrator":-

"The Turk in Europe has an overweening sense of his superiority, and remains a nation apart, mixing little with the conquered populations, whose customs and ideas he tolerates, but makes little effort to understand. The expression indeed, 'Turkey in Europe' means indeed no more than 'England in Asia,' if used as a designation for India…. The Turks have done little to assimilate the people whom they have conquered, and still less, been assimilated by them. In the larger part of the Turkish dominions, the Turks themselves are in a minority…. The Turks certainly resent the dismemberment of their Empire, but not in the sense in which the French resent the conquest of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany. They would never use the word 'Turkey' or even its oriental equivalent, 'The High Country' in ordinary conversation. They would never say that Syria and Greece are parts of Turkey which have been detached, but merely that they are tributaries which have become independent, provinces once occupied by Turks where there are no Turks now. As soon as a province passes under another Government, the Turks find it the most natural thing in the world to leave it and go somewhere else. In the same spirit the Turk talks quite pleasantly of leaving Constantinople some day, he will go over to Asia and found another capital. One can hardly imagine Englishmen speaking like that of London, but they might conceivably speak so of Calcutta…. The Turk is a conqueror and nothing else. The history of the Turk is a catalogue of battles. His contributions to art, literature, science and religion, are practically nil. Their desire has not been to instruct, to improve, hardly even to govern, but simply to conquer…. The Turk makes nothing at all; he takes whatever he can get, as plunder or pillage. He lives in the houses which he finds, or which he orders to be built for him. In unfavourable circumstances he is a marauder. In favourable, a Grand Seigneur who thinks it his right to enjoy with grace and dignity all that the world can hold, but who will not lower himself by engaging in art, literature, trade or manufacture. Why should he, when there are other people to do these things for him. Indeed, it may be said that he takes from others even his religion, clothes, language, customs; there is hardly anything which is Turkish and not borrowed. The religion is Arabic; the language half Arabic and Persian; the literature almost entirely imitative; the art Persian or Byzantine; the costumes, in the Upper Classes and Army mostly European. There is nothing characteristic in manufacture or commerce, except an aversion to such pursuits. In fact, all occupations, except agriculture and military service are distasteful to the true Osmanli. He is not much of a merchant. He may keep a stall in a bazaar, but his operations are rarely undertaken on a scale which merits the name of commerce or finance. It is strange to observe how, when trade becomes active in any seaport, or upon the railway lines, the Osmanli retires and disappears, while Greeks, Armenians and Levantines thrive in his place. Neither does he much affect law, medicine or the learned professions. Such callings are followed by Moslims but they are apt to be of non-Turkish race. But though he does none of these things … the Turk is a soldier. The moment a sword or rifle is put into his hands, he instinctively knows how to use it with effect, and feels at home in the ranks or on a horse. The Turkish Army is not so much a profession or an institution necessitated by the fears and aims of the Government as the quite normal state of the Turkish nation…. Every Turk is a born soldier, and adopts other pursuits chiefly because times are bad. When there is a question of fighting, if only in a riot, the stolid peasant wakes up and shows surprising power of finding organisation and expedients, and alas! a surprising ferocity. The ordinary Turk is an honest and good-humoured soul, kind to children and animals, and very patient; but when the fighting spirit comes on him, he becomes like the terrible warriors of the Huns or Henghis Khan, and slays, burns and ravages without mercy or discrimination."[1]

Such is the verdict of an instructed, travelled and observant English author and diplomatist, who lived among these people for many years, and who learned to like them, who studied them and their history. It does not differ, of course, appreciably, from what practically every student of the Turk has discovered: the Turk is the typical conqueror. As a nation, he has lived by the sword, and he is dying by the sword, because the sword, the mere exercise of force by one man or group of men upon another, conquest in other words, is an impossible form of human relationship.

And in order to maintain this evil form of relationship-its evil and futility is the whole basis of the principles I have attempted to illustrate-he has not even observed the rough chivalry of the brigand. The brigand, though he might knock men on the head, will refrain from having his force take the form of butchering women and disembowelling children. Not so the Turk. His attempt at Government will take the form of the obscene torture of children, of a bestial ferocity which is not a matter of dispute or exaggeration, but a thing to which scores, hundreds, thousands even of credible European, witnesses have testified. "The finest gentleman, sir, that ever butchered a woman or burned a village," is the phrase that Punch most justly puts into the mouth of the defender of our traditional Turcophil policy.

And this condition is "Peace," and the act which would put a stop to it is "War." It is the inexactitude and inadequacy of our language which creates much of the confusion of thought in this matter; we have the same term for action destined to achieve a given end and for a counter-action destined to prevent it.

Yet we manage, in other than the international field, in civil matters, to make the thing clear enough.

Once an American town was set light to by incendiaries, and was threatened with destruction. In order to save at least a part of it, the authorities deliberately burned down a block of buildings in the pathway of the fire. Would those ince

ndiaries be entitled to say that the town authorities were incendiaries also, and "believed in setting light to towns?" Yet this is precisely the point of view of those who tax Pacifists with approving war because they approve the measure aimed at bringing it to an end.

Put it another way. You do not believe that force should determine the transfer of property or conformity to a creed, and I say to you: "Hand me your purse and conform to my creed or I kill you." You say: "Because I do not believe that force should settle these matters, I shall try and prevent it settling them, and therefore if you attack I shall resist; if I did not I should be allowing force to settle them." I attack; you resist and disarm me and say: "My force having neutralised yours, and the equilibrium being now established, I will hear any reasons you may have to urge for my paying you money; or any argument in favour of your creed. Reason, understanding, adjustment shall settle it." You would be a Pacifist. Or, if you deem that that word connotes non-resistance, though to the immense bulk of Pacifists it does not, you would be an anti-Bellicist to use a dreadful word coined by M. Emile Faguet in the discussion of this matter. If, however, you said: "Having disarmed you and established the equilibrium, I shall now upset it in my favour by taking your weapon and using it against you unless you hand me your purse and subscribe to my creed. I do this because force alone can determine issues, and because it is a law of life that the strong should eat up the weak." You would then be a Bellicist.

In the same way, when we prevent the brigand from carrying on his trade-taking wealth by force-it is not because we believe in force as a means of livelihood, but precisely because we do not. And if, in preventing the brigand from knocking out brains, we are compelled to knock out his brains, is it because we believe in knocking out people's brains? Or would we urge that to do so is the way to carry on a trade, or a nation, or a government, or make it the basis of human relationship?

In every civilised country, the basis of the relationship on which the community rests is this: no individual is allowed to settle his differences with another by force. But does this mean that if one threatens to take my purse, I am not allowed to use force to prevent it? That if he threatens to kill me, I am not to defend myself, because "the individual citizens are not allowed to settle their differences by force?" It is because of that, because the act of self-defence is an attempt to prevent the settlement of a difference by force, that the law justifies it.[2]

But the law would not justify me, if having disarmed my opponent, having neutralised his force by my own, and re-established the social equilibrium, I immediately proceeded to upset it, by asking him for his purse on pain of murder. I should then be settling the matter by force-I should then have ceased to be a Pacifist, and have become a Bellicist.

For that is the difference between the two conceptions: the Bellicist says: "Force alone can settle these matters; it is the final appeal; therefore fight it out. Let the best man win. When you have preponderant strength, impose your view; force the other man to your will; not because it is right, but because you are able to do so." It is the "excellent policy" which Lord Roberts attributes to Germany and approves.

We anti-Bellicists take an exactly contrary view. We say: "To fight it out settles nothing, since it is not a question of who is stronger, but of whose view is best, and as that is not always easy to establish, it is of the utmost importance in the interest of all parties, in the long run, to keep force out of it."

The former is the policy of the Turks. They have been obsessed with the idea that if only they had enough of physical force, ruthlessly exercised, they could solve the whole question of government, of existence for that matter, without troubling about social adjustment, understanding, equity, law, commerce; "blood and iron" were all that was needed. The success of that policy can now be judged.

And whether good or evil comes of the present war will depend upon whether the Balkan States are on the whole guided by the Bellicist principle or the opposed one. If having now momentarily eliminated force as between themselves, they re-introduce it, if the strongest, presumably Bulgaria, adopts Lord Roberts' "excellent policy" of striking because she has the preponderant force, enters upon a career of conquest of other members of the Balkan League, and the populations of the conquered territories, using them for exploitation by military force-why then there will be no settlement and this war will have accomplished nothing save futile waste and slaughter. For they will have taken under a new flag, the pathway of the Turk to savagery, degeneration, death.

But if on the other hand they are guided more by the Pacifist principle, if they believe that co-operation between States is better than conflict between them, if they believe that the common interest of all in good Government is greater than the special interest of any one in conquest, that the understanding of human relationships, the capacity for the organisation of society are the means by which men progress, and not the imposition of force by one man or group upon another, why, they will have taken the pathway to better civilisation. But then they will have disregarded Lord Roberts' advice.

And this distinction between the two systems, far from being a matter of abstract theory of metaphysics or logic chopping, is just the difference which distinguishes the Briton from the Turk, which distinguishes Britain from Turkey. The Turk has just as much physical vigour as the Briton, is just as virile, manly and military. The Turk has the same raw materials of Nature, soil and water. There is no difference in the capacity for the exercise of physical force-or if there is, the difference is in favour of the Turk. The real difference is a difference of ideas, of mind and outlook on the part of the individuals composing the respective societies; the Turk has one general conception of human society and the code and principles upon which it is founded, mainly a militarist one; and the Englishman has another, mainly a Pacifist one. And whether the European society as a whole is to drift towards the Turkish ideal or towards the English ideal will depend upon whether it is animated mainly by the Pacifist or mainly by the Bellicist doctrine; if the former, it will stagger blindly like the Turk along the path to barbarism; if the latter, it will take a better road.

[Footnote 1: "Turkey in Europe," pp. 88-9 and 91-2.

It is significant, by the way, that the "born soldier" has now been crushed by a non-military race whom he has always despised as having no military tradition. Capt. F.W. von Herbert ("Bye Paths in the Balkans") wrote (some years before the present war): "The Bulgars as Christian subjects of Turkey exempt from military service, have tilled the ground under stagnant and enfeebling peace conditions, and the profession of arms is new to them."

"Stagnant and enfeebling peace conditions" is, in view of subsequent events distinctly good.]

[Footnote 2: I dislike to weary the reader with such damnable iteration, but when a Cabinet Minister is unable in this discussion to distinguish between the folly of a thing and its possibility, one must make the fundamental point clear.]

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