Gateway to the Classics: The World at War by M. B. Synge
The World at War by  M. B. Synge

The Years Between

"Hate and mistrust are the children of blindness,

Could we but see one another, 'twere well,

Knowledge is sympathy, charity, kindness,

Ignorance only is maker of hell."

—W. Watson.

Meanwhile with the Balkan tangle growing in the near East, a feeling of distrust and suspicion was apparent throughout Europe. Rumours of coming war were in the air. "The barometer has moved from Rain and Wind to Changeable," remarked the German Chancellor. "Time and patience are needed."

At the same time the German navy grew with a rapidity that seemed out of proportion to her need in times of peace. Just before the dawn of the new century the Hague Conference had met. The invitation had come from Russia.

"It is the desire of His Majesty, the Emperor of all the Russias, that all the nations of Europe might agree to live together like brothers, and to help each other in their mutual needs "ran the call for universal peace by means of limiting the ever-growing armaments. The young Queen of the Netherlands—Wilhelmina—offered her capital The Hague, and in the Palace in the Wood, the first meeting was held and attended by delegates from twenty-five nations, including the United States of America.

In the summer of 1907, the Emperor of all the Russias again invited delegates to a second Peace Conference. Again Queen Wilhelmina offered her capital, and in the "Hall of the Knights" nearly double the number of delegates attended, and the "Palace in the Wood" could no longer hold them.

In the official language, French, the opening address ran: "Let us not be discouraged from dreaming of the ideal of universal peace and the brotherhood of nations. Let us bravely set to work—our way lighted by the bright stars of universal peace and justice, which we shall never reach, but which will always guide us for the good of mankind."

The Conference again broke down, but it marks an epoch in the history of international relations.

The idea of disarmament grew more and more distasteful to Germany. "We are in the middle of Europe," repeated the German Chancellor, "in the most unfavourable position on the world map. The present situation in Europe is not very comfortable—our fleet is determined by a law solely to defend our coast and our commerce." England became alarmed, and Lord Roberts was not the only Englishman who urged a national army.

"Within a few hours' steaming of our coasts," he pleaded, "there is a people, numbering over sixty millions, our most active rivals in commerce, and the greatest military Power in the world, adding to an overwhelming military strength a naval force which she is resolutely and rapidly increasing." He urged a volunteer army of the nation's young manhood "lest our Empire fall from us and our power pass away." He spoke in vain. Six years later—

"He passed in the very battle smoke

Of the war that he had descried,"

and men remembered

"The weighed and urgent word

That pleaded in the market-place,

Pleaded and was not heard."

The same year the First Sea Lord wrote to the King, "That we have eventually to fight Germany is just as sure as anything can be."

King Edward's death in 1910 brought the Kaiser over to his uncle's funeral on friendly terms. The following year the German Imperial Family were received as guests of the new king, George V., with enthusiasm. It seemed as if the "atmosphere was much more genial" and the "old distrust" was passing away. It was but a gleam of hope.

Questions concerning Morocco were again becoming acute. France suddenly occupied Fez, Germany replied by sending a gunboat, the Panther, to Agadir. War again loomed on the horizon and again was skilfully averted. Nevertheless the years before the Great World War were full of trouble and unrest.

Among other problems to be reckoned with during the years before the war was Ireland. So absorbing and restless was the state of Ireland in her demand for Home Rule, so many soldiers were stationed there to keep the peace, that Germany felt England was not free enough even to contemplate war. In 1903, when King Edward had visited Ireland, the Home Rule movement was but just beginning.

"Come back, ah, ye will come back," was the cry that pierced through the blaring of the bands and the wild cheers that greeted him in Dublin's narrow streets.

But the King never returned, for the movement directed against Great Britain by a section of her people grew apace during the years of his reign, and at his death Ireland was still in trouble. The Home Rule Bill, by which the country should have her own Parliament and govern her own people, was ready in 1912. But the Northern counties of Ulster did not want Home Rule. Rather did they desire to remain under the King and the Imperial Parliament. The burning question was discussed far and wide. Could Ireland be politically divided?

Ulster took the matter into her own hands, when half a million Ulster men signed a "Solemn Covenant pledging the signatories to stand by one another in defending for themselves and their children their cherished possession of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom," and used all available means to defeat the Home Rule Bill proposed for Ireland.

Their leader was Sir Edward Carson. Mr Redmond replied for the rest of Ireland that this meant partition of the nation, adding: "To that we Irish Nationalists can never submit."

Then the Ulster men began warlike preparations—openly they drilled, openly they armed for possible conflict.

It was but natural that Ulster's example should be copied. A "citizen" army sprang into being, and a volunteer force gave Mr Redmond a weapon which, it was felt, would enable him to enforce Home Rule.

By 1913 it was pointed out by the extremists in the South, known under the name of "Sinn Fein" (Ourselves alone), that war with Germany was in the air, and that England's difficulty would be "Ireland's opportunity." No one realised better than the Kaiser and his military staff how serious was the situation with which England had to deal in Ireland. Her troops were already massing for possible conflict, and in the eyes of Germany, her hands were too full of home politics to make it likely she would join with France in war.

But Germany was wrong.

The declaration of war welded England and Ireland into one in a common cause. Both North and South pledged their country to the support of the Allies.

"I say to the Government," cried Redmond, "that they may to-morrow withdraw every one of their troops from Ireland. Ireland will be defended by her armed sons from invasion."

Nationalist volunteers and Ulster Covenanters joined the colours side by side. And Irishmen, who for years had been denounced as the sworn foes of England, now gave a new meaning to the words "England's difficulty—Ireland's opportunity." Large numbers made the supreme sacrifice, and their deaths, amid the crash of war, made men ask themselves whether the great historic feud of centuries might not end.

"Then should we, growing in strength and in sweetness,

Fusing to one indivisible soul,

Dazzle the world with a splendid completeness,

Mightily single, immovably whole."

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