Great Speeches of the War/O'Connor

T. P. O'CONNOR


[T. P. here gives expression to his views on the German Nation and on the War and its issues.]


This Great War is to me not merely a fight between nations; it is even more a fight between ideals; it is a spiritual as well as a material fight. It is not enough that we beat down the armies of Germany and of Austria; that we shall do, though it take a long time, galleons of treasure, and oceans of blood. We have even more to beat down and destroy for ever the most pernicious, the most wicked and the most insane gospel that ever took possession of a nation and drove its people to the madness which precedes destruction.

Of the hundreds of articles I have read since this War began, the one which brought most light to me was a passage in a letter from Sir Valentine Chirol, in which he related a conversation he had had many years ago with the late Herr Bebel, the great leader of the Socialist party. This is the passage:

"About twenty years ago I was watching with Herr Bebel a Prussian regiment of Foot Guards marching out of the Brandenburg Gate at Berlin. The Socialist leader told me with some pride that more than half of them were probably Social Democrats. I asked him whether, in the event of war, that would make the slightest difference; and he replied to me quite frankly: 'No, I am afraid not the slightest. Nothing will happen until Germany has been sobered by a great military catastrophe. Das volk ist noch immer siegestrunken.' (The people are still drunk with victory.)"

Drunk with victory!—that is the most lucid and complete and terse summing up of the German state of mind which has ever appeared. We have had to deal for nearly half a century with a nation which was in a state of drunken, and therefore insane, megalomania. It is quite true that the whole nation, perhaps, did not share this gospel; Herr Bebel and those whom he represented foresaw the abyss of horror and ruin to which this gospel would lead; but the Socialists of Germany beat their heads in vain against the steel-clad fortress behind which the Kaiser, the Army, and Junkerdom lay entrenched,

I will endeavour to back up every assertion I may make, and give incontestible proof of what I have just said; we have been dealing with a nation drunk and mad with megalomania.

And the megalomania has been of the most pernicious form. Just as some insanities are gentle and harmless, and other insanities are homicidal, so this megalomania of Germany has been militarist, and therefore homicidal. It is now known that Germany has preached, and has, alas! given its fullest and most ardent faith to this new decalogue—Might is right; war is not only unavoidable, but desirable, moral, elevating, necessary to the sound spiritual and physical health and general progress of a nation. The world does not consist of separate races, with their right to individual self-development, but of a series of inferior races, all to be brought under the iron heel of German militarism, and under the spiritual domain of what is called German culture. What is the truth, in opposition to this claim, at once so arrogant and so ignorant?

The world has been divided by the divine and unerring hand of Nature into peoples who speak different tongues, profess different religions, the blood in whose veins comes from different sources, who dwell under different suns and till different earths. But the German soldier in his pickelhaube and the German professor in his spectacles come along, and declare Germany is wiser and more powerful than Nature. Nature deliberately created diversity; the Germans will substitute uniformity; and the uniformity means that every race, creed, and nation shall be all put into the German mould. The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God"; the German hath said in his heart, "There is no truth or persistent or irresistible purpose in Nature which is of God."

The world has had different prophets, testifying to what is best in humanity throughout the ages; prophets of good, prophets of evil. The prophet whom the greatest part of civilized humanity follows to-day is Christ; the prophet whom the German soldier and professor put forth as the ideal is Napoleon. As Professor Cramb, a partial admirer of German methods, summed it up: Corsica has conquered Galilee. In this War the Allied Powers are fighting for the gospel of Galilee and against the gospel of Corsica.

If I examine the issues from the social and political as well as from the spiritual point of view, again I find that we are fighting in this War for wisdom against insanity. Might is right, says the German. That is to say, that the weak have no rights, save such as the strong mercifully extend to them. Belgium, a little nation, stands in the way of the giant strength and fell purpose of Germany; sweep her away; burn her cities and monuments; kill not only her gallant soldiers, but her women and her babes; add the dishonour of violation to the mothers who have seen their children butchered before their eyes. It may be lamentable, replies the German philosophy; indeed, the Kaiser has wept over it all; but what I insist on is that violated women, butchered babes, just as much as the death in the open field of hundreds of thousands of men, is the inevitable, the logical, even, from the point of view of the Prussian soldier, the desirable, result of war. I take up a paper and I read that a German aeroplane has in Paris taken off the leg of a little baby girl of six years of age—a baby girl of six years of age walking with her grandfather to church, and in a second she is a bleeding mass; not, unhappily, killed, but saved to limp for life till death brings merciful relief. Just think of it!

To every human heart, however callous, childhood retains its imperishable and indestructible appeal. Our great poet Wordsworth spoke of children as coming into this world not naked, "but trailing clouds of glory from heaven, which is their home." And heaven is in the eyes of every child. If it were not so, the world would have perished long ago. It is to re-shape what we have failed to shape properly; to bring light where we have known darkness; to save the pure young soul from the sins that have soiled our own in life's bitter struggle with the world outside, and the more perilous world of passions, weaknesses, and appetites within ourselves; it is to re-make in our little way the world for this new being that has come through us on to its chequered life—this is the impulse that keeps the millions of the world, white or black, Western or Eastern, civilized or savage, storing yearly their little meed of wheat, or wine, or oil. And this German areoplane is the welcome which war, after German methods, gives to this angelic visitant to our earth—to this little baby girl six years old!

Do not tell me in protest that I am making out the German soldier as a brute, free from all the great ordinary universal instincts of the father. Such a charge would be wicked and insane. The horrors of this War have been touched with instances of the wistful tenderness with which the German soldier has taken the little children of his enemy on his knee, and pressed them to his lips and to his eyes, hungry, perchance, with his memories of like children left in his desolate and weeping home, far away in a German street or far-off village. But what I do contend is that the gospel of war, the gospel that war is a high, a noble, an inspiring, an elevating thing, which the Prussian militarist philosophy teaches, must be judged by its fruits; must be judged by its inevitable results. The smooth and suave language of the soldier in his barrack-room, or the professor in his study hall, or the parson in his pulpit, must be brought down to their final test by what their principles carry with them in the concrete. It is not the wretched and enslaved instrument of this hideous gospel that I blame; it is the men who have preached and made this gospel—it is your Treitschkes, your Nietzsches, your Bernhardis, your Drysanders, your Kaisers, your Bismarcks. Before the great Court of Humanity, I indict these men as preaching the gospel of the devil; and them I hold responsible for the hell which this gospel has created; I bring as tragic witnesses in this great Court against them, not merely every soldier who has fallen, but every woman that has been murdered and violated, and every child that has been mutilated or massacred.

These, then, are the first counts in my indictment of the devilish system of philosophy and of action against which our forces are fighting. Let me go to the other counts. Nature, as I have said, by diversity of climate, soil, colour, blood, has insisted that the world shall be divided into different communities, which we term nations. It is no accident of history that some of these nations are large, some of them small. You are violating not merely a law of man, but a law of nature, when you make war on the small nation and refuse to acknowledge its rights and its liberties; but in the German gospel there is no law of nature or of man, which has any existence outside the German will and the German necessity. Again, the language of pseudo-science and of false history is brought in to justify these doctrines. Again, it is an insane as well as a wicked gospel. "The Will to Power"; "World Dominion or Downfall"; or "The Beautiful Blonde Beast"—these are the high-flowing terms rushing in a deep, rich, abundant stream through innumerable volumes—a stream as wide, as deep, as rich as the blood of hundreds of thousands of human beings that this infernal gospel has brought to cruel and untimely death.

Again, I say, it is a gospel as insane as it is wicked. It is a conflict with nature; it is the crude idea, which it would be calumnious to Paganism to call Pagan, that man consists of body alone. Man's soul still remains unconquerable. Scatter into bleeding fragments millions of his bodies with your howitzers, Man's soul rises from the million corpses, in its everlasting youth, in its indestructible immortality. These spiritual forces, which your gospel of war ignores, are no more capable of being destroyed than a great river or the incarnardine sea. And of these spiritual forces there is none more indestructible than the principle of race and of nationality. Watch this mighty stream; for tens of thousands of years it has flowed on. Ten thousand summers have dried it up to a trickling stream; ten thousand winters have imprisoned it in the bonds of ice. But it still flows on, and will flow on, till it reaches the sea, to the very end of time. And so it is with the principle of race and of nationality. Bloody battlefields, scaffolds, gaols, have tried to dry or to freeze its course; but it goes on until it also reaches the sea, which to it is freedom.

Apply this Prussian gospel of militarism to the law's within the State, and again it is as insane as it is wicked. Smooth, suave, unctuous again it is in language; but look at it as it works out in the concrete. It is again might against right. As to Germany herself, even to her own people it is a gospel which has lost the intellectual support of all that is really intellectual and really good in the nation. If you were to produce what has been said of this gospel in the organs of advanced German thought, you would find the indictment to be far more crushing than anything I could express. For what is the Government of Germany to-day? It can be summed up in a few words. The country and all its destinies he in the hands ultimately of a few men; and these men, in their turn, are held in bondage by one of the most selfish classes that ever ruled and ruined a nation. The Prussian Junker—is there any type more detestable or more disastrous or more sinister in the history of nations? He takes from Germany every toll that organized injustice and inequality can wring. He is the head and front of the whole militarist and official system. From his ranks come those who live on the millions which the nation has to pay every year for the upkeep of the gigantic Army and the gigantic Fleet. It is all a gigantic, highly organized citadel of wrong. Wait a while; this War of Liberation will liberate Germany.

So it is with those of the German race themselves; but how about those others that live in the abysmal depths of racial persecution? Again put in juxtaposition the smooth, suave, unctuous language, and the hideous and logical concrete. It may be all summed up in the one word—Zabern. The Dane of Schleswig-Holstein; the Pole of Posen; the Frenchman of Alsace-Lorraine; they have all to live under the same iron heel of Prussian militarism. The gaols have often been filled; sometimes because a frank word has dared to find flaws in the shining armour of the megalomaniac who sits on the throne; sometimes because the oppressed race clings to the language or the ideals of the race whose blood flows in its veins; sometimes the rod descends from the man in the workshop or the field to the child who toddles to the school. But it is not the full gaols that represent the oppression. The chill of the cell, the grey granite of the prison wall, are not as cruel as the broad, encompassing air of ubiquitous oppression in all these provinces. Every man, every woman, every child, feels all around the rule of the harsh conqueror to the helpless conquered. Be brave, oppressed and darkened hearts; give wings to your unconquerable souls; the arms of free England and of free France are hurrying up to your prison-house, and soon the doors will be unlocked, and you will breathe the air of freedom once again.

By their fruits you shall know them. Judge, then, the wisdom and the veracity of this Prussian gospel by what has happened since this War begun; put, above all, in juxtaposition the conflicting ideals of the Prussian system and the system of the great free Empire to which we belong, for whose defence our soldiers are shedding their precious blood. There isn't a true Dane, a true Pole, a true Frenchman, within the broad dominions of the German Empire, that doesn't in his heart long for the hour when the blood-stained vulture-eagle of Prussia is stretched helpless, with broken wings and battered beak, on the ground. Nay, there is no civilized land in the world which does not look eagerly for the overthrow of that hideous system which Frederick the Great began, Bismarck continued, and the Kaiser William has put to its final test.

How is it with us? It was almost worth the cost in blood and treasure of this War that we should have brought together in such bonds of love and defence and enthusiasm the far-flung States and races of our world-wide Empire. Was there ever in the history of mankind through all the ages any such vindication of an Empire and of a system as that which we have seen within the last few weeks? The Boers, arrayed in fierce battle against us but a few years ago, have rushed to our defence; the glory and the beauty of our generous, large-hearted free Empire has won them. From India the princes and the peoples, the warriors and the priests, the contented and those in revolt, have commingled their arms and their prayers for the victory of the arms of that Empire which has joined their warring races and creeds under the majestic and reconciling fabric of the Pax Britannica. Our colonies, the children of our loins and the heirs of our institutions, are rushing to our banners. Ireland, but lately a sullen and hostile sister, and divided, apparently, by unbridgeable gulfs of creed and race, has to-day but one rivalry—the rivalry as to which race and which creed will put forth the larger measure of its blood for the defence of our Empire and our ideals. Oh! you wretched Treitschkes and Nietzsches and Bernhardis, where is your gospel of war and might and slavery now, in face of these million men who are rushing to the battlefield, brought thither by the irresistible magnet of freedom in a free Empire?

These, then, seem to my mind the issues of this War. These have seemed to me the issues from the very first hour the war-cloud appeared on the horizon. The Germans demand world-wide dominion; and they demand it so that they may make the world subservient to the German race and to the Prussian system. To me that would be the end in the world of all that every free man, every sane man, and every Christian man holds dear. It would be the victory of the Empire of military despotism over the free Empire of free institutions and free men. It would be the return of a despotism which has no more relation to the life of to-day, than the rule of the savage, roaming in the primeval forest, who won his food by slaying his fellow-man. It would be the crushing out of all that intellectual, spiritual, and national side of the human soul which alone makes the world possible.

We make no blasphemous and childish and pagan appeal to a tribal God, with a pickelhaube for a halo and a sword dripping with men's and women's and children's blood for a sceptre. We appeal to Galilee with its gospel, not of slavery, as the wretched Neitzsche shrieked in his delirium, and as Bernhardi writes in his brutal gospel of war, but as the gospel at once of freedom, justice, humanity, and peace among all men of goodwill,

Corsica against Galilee: this is the fundamental issue for which you are fighting, noble soldiers of ours, to-day. Happy warriors, whatever your fate; though you die, you will live for ever, A little cross, a single stone, will mark the spot where many of you may lie in indiscriminate heaps; the ashes of some of you are already commingling with the roots from which will spring the rich grass or the ripe corn. Others of you will be commemorated by statue, by tablet, in stone and in bronze. But you will have, whether in your obscure and unvisited graves or in your great mausoleums, a richer and a more imperishable monument; a monument which neither time nor war nor malice can ever destroy. The stories of your heroic lives and noble deaths can no more perish than the ocean that laps our shores. To the end of our history, generations will hear and brood over and drink in the story of your deeds; and millions yet unborn will fight the inner conflict between the good and the evil guardian on the battle-ground of every human soul; and millions will learn to turn the balance to the right side, and live more nobly and die more bravely, because you lived so nobly and died so bravely.

Galilee against Corsica! You fight for Galilee. It may be that you also will have to pass through the bloody sweat of your Gethsemanes, through the cruel Calvary of death; and you may find your last homes in the Golgothas of the battle-field. But from your perishable bodies your pure souls will rise on white wings beyond the stars.