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   Chapter 11 CONCLUSIONS

The War in South Africa, Its Cause and Conduct By Arthur Conan Doyle Characters: 16094

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

I have now dealt with the various vexed questions of the war, and have, I hope, said enough to show that we have no reason to blush for our soldiers, but only for those of their fellow-countrymen who have traduced them. But there are a number of opponents of the war who have never descended to such baseness, and who honestly hold that the war might have been avoided, and also that we might, after it broke out, have found some terms which the Boers could accept. At their back they have all those amiable and goodhearted idealists who have not examined the question very critically, but are oppressed by the fear that the Empire is acting too roughly towards these pastoral republics. Such an opinion is just as honest as, and infinitely more respectable than, that of some journalists whose arrogance at the beginning of the war brought shame upon us. There is no better representative of such views than Mr. Methuen in his 'Peace or War,' an able and moderate statement. Let us examine his conclusions, omitting the causes of the war, which have already been treated at some length.

Mr. Methuen draws a close comparison between the situation and that of the American Revolution. There are certainly points of resemblance-and also of difference. Our cause was essentially unjust with the Americans and essentially just with the Boers. We have the Empire at our back now. We have the command of the seas. We are very wealthy. These are all new and important factors.

The revolt of the Boer States against the British suzerainty is much more like the revolt of the Southern States against the Government of Washington. The situation here after Colenso was that of the North after Bull's Run. Mr. Methuen has much to say of Boer bitterness, but was it greater than Southern bitterness? That war was fought to a finish and we see what has come of it. I do not claim that the parallel is exact, but it is at least as nearly exact as that from which Mr. Methuen draws such depressing conclusions. He has many gloomy remarks upon our prospects, but it is in facing gloomy prospects with a high heart that a nation proves that it is not yet degenerate. Better pay all the price which he predicts than shrink for one instant from our task.

Mr. Methuen makes a good deal of the foolish and unchivalrous, even brutal, way in which some individuals and some newspapers have spoken of the enemy. I suppose there are few gentlemen who have not winced at such remarks. But let Mr. Methuen glance at the continental press and see the work of the supporters of the enemy. It will make him feel more charitable towards his boorish fellow-countrymen. Or let him examine the Dutch press in South Africa and see if all the abuse is on one side. Here are some appreciations from the first letter of P.S. (of Colesburg) in the 'Times':

'Your lazy, dirty, drunken, lower classes.'

'Your officers are pedantic scholars or frivolous society men.'

'The major part of your population consists of females, cripples, epileptics, consumptives, cancerous people, invalids, and lunatics of all kinds.'

'Nine-tenths of your statesmen and higher officials are suffering from kidney disease.'

'We will not be governed by a set of British curs.'

No great chivalry or consideration of the feelings of one's opponent there! Here is a poem from the 'Volksstem' on August 26, 1899, weeks before the war, describing the Boer programme. A translation runs thus:

'Then shall our ears with pleasure listen

To widow's wail and orphan's cry;

And shall we gird, as joyful witness,

The death-watch of your villainy.

'Then shall we massacre and butcher

You, and swallow glad your blood;

And count it "capital with interest"-

Villain's interest-sweet and good.

'And when the sun shall set in Heaven,

Dark with the clouds of steaming blood,

A ghastly, woeful, dying murmur

Will be the Briton's last salute.

'Then shall we start our jolly banquet,

And toast the first "the British blood."'

No doubt a decent Boer would be as ashamed of this as we are of some of our Jingo papers. But even their leaders, Reitz, Steyn, and Kruger, have allowed themselves to use language about the British which cannot, fortunately, be matched upon our side.

Mr. Methuen is severe upon Lord Salisbury for the uncompromising nature of his reply to the Presidents' overtures for peace in March 1900. But what other practical course could he suggest? Is it not evident that if independence were left to the Boers the war would have been without result, since all the causes which led to it would be still open and unsolved. On the morrow of such a peace we should be faced by the Franchise question, the Uitlander question, and every other question for the settling of which we have made such sacrifices. Is that a sane policy? Is it even tenable on the grounds of humanity, since it is perfectly clear that it must lead to another and a greater struggle in the course of a few years? When the work was more than half done it would have been madness to hold our hand.

Surely there is no need for gloomy forebodings. The war has seemed long to us who have endured it, but to our descendants it will probably seem a very short time for the conquest of so huge a country and so stubborn a foe. Our task is not endless. Four-fifths of the manhood of the country is already in our hands, and the fifth remaining diminishes week by week. Our mobility and efficiency increase. There is not the slightest ground for Mr. Methuen's lament about the condition of the Army. It is far fitter than when it began. It is mathematically certain that a very few months must see the last commando hunted down. Meanwhile civil life is gaining strength once more. Already the Orange River Colony pays its own way, and the Transvaal is within measurable distance of doing the same. Industries are waking up, and on the Rand the roar of the stamps has replaced that of the cannon. Fifteen hundred of them will soon be at work, and the refugees are returning at the rate of 400 a week.

It is argued that the bitterness of this struggle will never die out, but history has shown that it is the fights which are fought to an absolute finish which leave the least rancour. Remember Lee's noble words: 'We are a Christian people. We have fought this fight as long and as well as we knew how. We have been defeated. For us, as a Christian people, there is now but one course to pursue. We must accept the situation.' That is how a brave man accepts the judgment of the God of battles. So it may at last be with the Boers. These prison camps and concentration camps have at least brought them, men and women, in contact with our people. Perhaps the memories left behind will not be entirely bitter. Providence works in strange ways, and possibly the seeds of reconciliation, may be planted even there.

As to the immediate future it is probable that the Transvaal, with the rush of immigrants which prosperity will bring, will soon be, next to Natal, the most British of the South African States. With Natal British, Rhodesia British, the Transvaal British, the Cape half and half, and only the Orange River Colony Dutch, the British would be assured of a majority in a parliament of United South Africa. It would be well to allow Natal to absorb the Vryheid district of the Transvaal.

It has occurred to me-a suggestion which I put forward with all diffidence-that it would be a wise and practicable step to form a Boer Reservation in the northern districts of the Transvaal (Watersberg and Zoutpansberg). Let them live there as Basutos live in Basutoland, or Indians in Indian territory, or the inhabitants of a protected state in India. Guarantee them, as long as they remain peaceable under the British flag, complete protection from the invasion of the miner or the prospector. Let them live their own lives in their own way, with some simple form of home rule of their own. The irreconcilable men who could never rub shoulders with the British could find

a home there, and the British colonies would be all the stronger for the placing in quarantine of those who might infect their neighbours with their own bitterness. Such a State could not be a serious source of danger, since we could control all the avenues by which arms could reach it. I am aware that the Watersberg and the Zoutpansberg are not very desirable places of residence, but the thing is voluntary and no man would need to go there unless he wished. Without some such plan the Empire will have no safety-valve in South Africa.

I cannot conclude this short review of the South African question without some allusion to the attitude of continental nations during the struggle. This has been in all cases correct upon the part of the governments, and in nearly all cases incorrect upon the part of the people. A few brave and clear-headed men, like Yves Guyot in France, and M. Tallichet and M. Naville in Switzerland, have been our friends, or rather the friends of truth; but the vast majority of all nations have been carried away by that flood of prejudice and lies which has had its source in a venal, or at best an ignorant, press. In this country the people in the long run can always impose its will upon the Government, and it has, I believe, come to some very definite conclusions which will affect British foreign policy for many years to come.

Against France there is no great bitterness, for we feel that France has never had much reason to look upon us in any light save that of an enemy. For many years we have wished to be friendly, but the traditions of centuries are not so easily forgotten. Besides, some of our shortcomings are of recent date. Many of us were, and are, ashamed of the absurd and hysterical outcry in this country over the Dreyfus case. Are there no miscarriages of justice in the Empire? An expression of opinion was permissible, but the wholesale national abuse has disarmed us from resenting some equally immoderate criticism of our own character and morals. To Russia also we can bear no grudge, for we know that there is no real public opinion in that country, and that their press has no means for forming first-hand conclusions. Besides, in this case also there is a certain secular enmity which may account for a warped judgment.

But it is very different with Germany. Again and again in the world's history we have been the friends and the allies of these people. It was so in the days of Marlborough, in those of the Great Frederick, and in those of Napoleon. When we could not help them with men we helped them with money. Our fleet has crushed their enemies. And now, for the first time in history, we have had a chance of seeing who were our friends in Europe, and nowhere have we met more hatred and more slander than from the German press and the German people. Their most respectable journals have not hesitated to represent the British troops-troops every bit as humane and as highly disciplined as their own-not only as committing outrages on person and property, but even as murdering women and children.

At first this unexpected phenomenon merely surprised the British people, then it pained them, and, finally, after two years of it, it has roused a deep and enduring anger in their minds. There is a rumour which crops up from time to time, and which appears to have some foundation, that there is a secret agreement by which the Triple Alliance can, under certain circumstances, claim the use of the British fleet. There are, probably, only a few men in Europe who know whether this is so or not. But if it is, it would be only fair to denounce such a treaty as soon as may be, for very many years must pass before it would be possible for the public to forget and forgive the action of Germany. Nor can we entirely exonerate the German Government, for we know the Germans to be a well-disciplined people; and we cannot believe that Anglophobia could have reached the point of mania without some official encouragement-or, at least, in the face of any official discouragement.

The agitation reached its climax in the uproar over the reference which Mr. Chamberlain made to the war of 1870 in his speech at Edinburgh. In this speech Mr. Chamberlain very justly remarked that we could find precedents for any severe measures which we might be compelled to take against the guerillas, in the history of previous campaigns-those of the French in Algiers, the Russians in the Caucasus, the Austrians in Bosnia, and the Germans in France. Such a remark implied, of course, no blame upon these respective countries, but pointed out the martial precedents which justify such measures. It is true that the Germans in France never found any reason to lay the country waste, for they were never faced with a universal guerilla warfare as we have been, but they gave the franc-tireur, or the man who was found cutting the wire of the line, very short shrift; whereas we have never put to death a single bona-fide Boer for this offence. Possibly it was not that the Germans were too severe, but that we were too lax. In any case, it is evident that there was nothing offensive in the statement, and those who have been well informed as to the doings of the British soldiers in the war will know that any troops in the world might be proud to be classed with them, either in valour or humanity.

But the agitators did not even trouble to ascertain the words which Mr. Chamberlain had used-though they might have seen them in the original on the table of the Lesezimmer of the nearest hotel. On the strength of a garbled report a tumult arose over the whole country and many indignation meetings were held. Six hundred and eighty clergymen were found whose hearts and heads were soft enough to be imposed upon by absurd tales of British atrocities, and these reverend gentlemen subscribed an insulting protest against them. The whole movement was so obviously artificial-or at least based upon misapprehension-that it excited as much amusement as anger in this country; but still the honour of our Army is very dear to us, and the continued attacks upon it have left an enduring feeling of resentment amongst us, which will not, and should not, die away in this generation. It is not too much to say that five years ago a complete defeat by Germany in a European war would have certainly caused British intervention. Public sentiment and racial affinity would never have allowed us to see her really go to the wall. And now it is certain that in our lifetime no British guinea and no soldier's life would under any circumstances be spent for such an end. That is one strange result of the Boer war, and in the long run it is possible that it may prove not the least important.

Yet some allowance must be made for people who for years have had only one side of the question laid before them, and have had that one side supported by every sort of malignant invention and misrepresentation. Surely the day will come when truth will prevail, if only for the reason that the sources of corruption will run dry. It is difficult to imagine that any permanent policy can ever be upheld by falsehood. When that day does come, and the nations of Europe see how they have been hoodwinked and made tools of by a few artful and unscrupulous men, it is possible that a tardy justice will be done to the dignity and inflexible resolution which Great Britain has shown throughout. Until the dawn breaks we can but go upon our way, looking neither to the right nor to the left, but keeping our eyes fixed ever upon one great object-a South Africa in which there shall never again be strife, and in which Boer and Briton shall enjoy the same rights and the same liberties, with a common law to shield them and a common love of their own fatherland to weld them into one united nation.




Transcriber's Note:

Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Obsolete spellings have been retained.

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