The Continental Times No. 1189, Vol. XXII, No.47, 18/10/1915
SIR ROGER CASEMENT ON SIR EDWARD GREY
The report that Sir Edward Grey may cease to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Great Britain in consequence of British policy in the Balkans comes to us to-day from the Tory and Imperialist organs of the English press.
Over four years ago it was the Radical newspapers demanded Sir Edward Grey’s resignation on the ground of his antagonism to Germany which a small band of far-seeing Englishmen then perceived must lead their country into war if Sir Edward Grey’s policy was not restrained.
The reply in 1911 of the permanent imperialist powers (individuals within the British State, P.W.) that direct British policy to the attack then made public by a section of the Liberal press on a Liberal Foreign Minister was to make him a Knight of the Garter, an honour only once before conferred on a Commoner.
Now it is these unseen but omnipotent forces that rule King, Cabinet and Commons that apparently through their press, desire the retirement of the Foreign Minister who for ten years has served as their docile and obedient tool.
Tool is perhaps, an ungenerous word to apply to Sir Edward Grey, but it is the Minister, not the man; I would indicate it might be truer to say that for ten years, under the guise of a Liberal statesman, he has been used as a shield between the Foreign Office and all Liberal criticisms of its policy; the shield behind which, with a nominally democratic government in power the permanent plotters against German unity and expansion might develop their attack unseen, unchecked and uncontrolled by the forces that were supposedly the masters of English public action. The ten years of ‘Liberalism’ at the Foreign Office since 1905, under the nominal direction of a Liberal Minister, will go down in history as the most criminal, the most audacious and, I believe, in the end the most disastrous in all English history.
It would be unjust to blame Sir Edward Grey for the failure of the Foreign Office policy in the Balkans any more than to blame him personally for its triumph in bringing about the war as a result of those long years of plotting.
The war against Germany was decreed years ago by those powers that own the Foreign Office and drive, not guide, the English people, and the personality of the Foreign Minister had as little to do with the result achieved as the personal character of an Archbishop of Canterbury has to do with the policy of the Church of England.
Sir Edward Grey was by constitution, temperament and lack of training, no less than the absence of the special qualities needed, unfit for the post the exigencies of political party life placed him in charge of, on the return of the Liberals to office, after ten years of exclusion from power in December 1905.
He knew little of foreign countries, or the life of other peoples. He was not a student of history, a profound thinker, a well read man or one even who moved much among his own countrymen. His tastes were those of a stay at home country gentleman, a Whig rather than a Liberal in political outlook, and one who preferred to be left alone with a fishing-rod on the banks of a quiet stream to fishing with a rod he did not know how to handle in the troubled waters of European diplomacy.
The family traditions of a political house forced him into Parliament; the necessities of Party planning and the trickeries of Cabinet making forced him into the Ministry.
As he had filled the subordinate office of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the last Liberal Ministry when Lord Rosebery was Prime Minister it was felt that on the return of the Liberals to office in 1906, Sir Edward Grey was designed to occupy the post of which he had once been Lord Rosebery’s understudy.
For an explanation of Sir Edward Grey’s failure as a Liberal Foreign Minister of England it is necessary to return to the period when Lord Rosebery succeeded Mr. Gladstone in 1893 and the seven or eight preceding years.
The explanation of very much of later English political life and particularly of the withdrawal of foreign affairs from the domain of party or public discussion in Parliament lies in Mr. Gladstone’s downfall over the Irish Question.
The triumph of English Toryism, reaction and Imperialism, following the vain attempt of the greatest of English Liberals to do political justice to Ireland, was not a passing event. The failure of Liberalism in Ireland brought with it the permanent eclipse of Liberalism as a power in foreign affairs and left those to be controlled without question by the influences that had opposed Mr. Gladstone’s Irish policy as treachery to the majesty of England and which had hurled the Liberals from office on the grounds that justice to Ireland was treachery to the Empire and the disruption of the Kingdom.
Up to Mr. Gladstone’s surrender to the Home Rule demand, Parliament delighted in discussing, in inspecting, in prescribing and to a great extent even in controlling the foreign affairs of the country. Debates on foreign policy were the order of the day. Next to the Budget and the control of taxation the House of Commons regarded its influence over the conduct of foreign affairs as one of the prescriptive rights of the People, to be constantly affirmed. The claim was hateful to the Crown and the growing forces of imperialism that had no open place in party life, – still an affair of ‘Whig’ and ‘Tory’, of ‘Ins and Outs’.
General Elections were lost and won on the issue of foreign affairs – as, for instance, when Mr. Gladstone turned Beaconsfield out of office in 1880 very largely on the question of the ‘Bulgarian atrocities’ and England’s relations with Turkey.
At that date both front benches were equally patriotic in the eyes of the country. Neither asserted or could claim a larger share in upholding British interests abroad. No question of the “surrender of British interests” to “traitors” had ever arisen to taint the fair fame of the Liberal (or Whig) party until Mr. Gladstone discovered Ireland. But in the years 1880 to 1886 Mr. Gladstone committed a double surrender, in the name of Liberalism, that gave his opponents, the Conservatives, the chance of a century. In a night the Liberal party was rent in twain, the Conservatives became the Tories of a hundred years before. They laid hold of the Empire; they grasped the sceptre of Imperialism and bore it scornfully out of the House of Commons. The Englishman’s birthright must not be so rendered to “rebels” and “traitors”.
Mr. Gladstone’s surrender, first to the Boers after Majuba in 1881 and next to Mr. Parnell and the Irish people in 1885/86, gave the Conservatives an opening they seized and held, and one they forced the Liberals to pass through as the only way of return to public life. The opening was the door that took the custody of ‘imperial affairs’ – i.e. foreign policy – out of the open assembly of the people into the closed air of the Cabinet Council and the closed doors of the Foreign Office.
The new Gospel of a Liberalism that sought to give political freedom to Ireland, that restored the Transvaal to the Boers, that was charged with intent to break up the British Empire, in fine, a gospel of Liberalism abroad as well as at home, was startling to the masses of Englishmen and hateful to the classes. The former did not understand and heard only the shameful words “surrender”, “traitors”, “treason mongers”; the latter understood it only too well. They saw too that by associating Mr. Gladstone’s most unpopular effort, that to be just to Ireland, and by linking up the hated name of Irish nationality with a policy of “Surrender of British Rights” they might exclude the Liberal Party from office for a score of years and in that period erect on solid foundations the framework of a great Imperial structure secure from popular interference or the prying eyes of popular representatives.
The idea of “Empire” was preached in place of patriotism and those who dared think first of England and the home necessities of Englishmen, were scornfully termed ‘Little Englanders’.
Mr. Gladstone resigned in 1893, refusing to forego his Irish convictions, to be followed by a weak-kneed “Liberal” who had been his Foreign Minister. Lord Rosebery, never at heart a Liberal, was always an Imperialist. Sir Edward Grey, his admirer, and pupil in the Foreign Office, was there in 1895 when the crash came and the Liberals were driven into the wilderness at the General Election, charged with the crime of surrendering the Briton’s birthright – Ireland, India, South Africa etc. etc. – to a band of traitors and blackmailers.
The heritage of John Bull’s centuries of toil must not be left in the hands of such a party to dispose of. The cause of patriotism became that of Imperialism and was definitely committed to those who had opposed the great surrender to Ireland and got this surrender as their reward.
The Empire, imperilled by Liberalism was safe in the hands of those who had detected the crime and of these no question need be asked. The Liberals, in the wilderness, dare not air their voices on any foreign question without the cry of “traitor” being raised. For them it was too dangerous, for the Tories it was not fit that the representatives of “the people” should have any voice in matters best left to their Lords and Masters to deal with in silence.
It thus came about that the two Front Benches – the Tory Government in office and the would-be Liberal Government out of office – agreed to exclude the topic of foreign affairs from Parliamentary discussion.
Thenceforward a policy of parliamentary silence on all grave aspects of foreign affairs became the accepted role of both great parties of state.
The Tories had won. The Empire was saved, but at the cost that the people to whom it was supposed to belong should have nothing to say about its management. Parliament was excluded from the greatest issues; a debate in the House of Commons on any matter of foreign concern became rarer and rarer; the two front benches willed silence.
With the return of Lord Salisbury to office in 1895, with a clear mandate to do as he pleased, the question of parliamentary discussion of foreign affairs may be said to have been settled.
The Foreign Secretary was in the House of Lords – a permanent institution of reactionary powers. He was represented in the House of Commons by a nobody or a fool, and as the Liberals dared not discuss the forbidden topic and the Tories were sure that all was being done as they wished it, the control of foreign policy passed absolutely into the hands of the permanent officials, men responsible to neither parliament or people, to whom their very names were unknown, but to the Crown alone.
Thus came King Edward. How he used his unchecked powers in the domain of foreign affairs is known only too well to-day.
When, in December 1905, the Liberals returned to office, with Sir Edward Grey at the Foreign Office, they did not return to power in matters of foreign policy. The system was already well established. The Liberals by their cowardice and treachery to the cause of Irish independence had really forfeited their own. No Minister, however strong, could have broken the power of the ring of irresponsibles around the King who drove the coach of state surely and relentlessly to a well-planned war with Germany. A strong and far-seeing man, a statesman, might have resisted, fought and resigned. Sir Edward Grey was none of these things.
At heart a peace-loving, a domestic, a quiet man, he had been raised to an office he was wholly unfitted for and chiefly just for that reason. The powers that drove the car of state did not want a wiser man.
They preferred a man with the taint of “Liberal Imperialism” in his blood, since a Liberal Government had to be accepted at the hands of the English electors.
They demanded that they should get a type of Liberal sent to the Foreign Office whom they should be able to adapt without trouble to the purposes of that ‘continuity of foreign policy’ they already had well in view.
That Sir Edward Grey was just the man they wanted is shown through every sentence of that momentous speech of his, delivered on August 3rd, 1914, to the House of Commons on the eve of the declaration of war.
Then, for the first time in his ten years of office, he tells the tale of how he had failed. In that fateful pronouncement the Minister stated the case against himself.
He shows how, in the Morocco crisis of 1906, at the time of the Algeciras Conference he allowed himself to be exploited by the Foreign Office and the French Government acting together, into giving that government a pledge of united military and naval support against Germany ‘should a sudden crisis arise’.
Of course, like all the undertakings of the Foreign Office on behalf of the Entente these “conversations between military and naval experts” (already in 1906!) were purely diplomatic overtures and were in no ways to ‘bind or restrict’ the freedom of the Government “to make a decision as to whether or not they would give that support when the time arose”.
How could a Government that knew nothing about these “conversations” and “agreements” decide anything wisely “when the time arose”? For Sir Edward Grey assured the House of Commons that if Parliament had been kept in the dark so, too, had the Cabinet. Speaking of these first “conversations between naval and military experts” in January 1906 – “when a General Election was in progress and Ministers scattered all over the country and I spending three days a week in my constituency and three days a week at the Foreign Office” Sir Edward Grey explained in August 1914 to Parliament “the fact that conversations between military and naval experts took place was later on – I think much later on, because that crisis passed and the thing ceased to be of importance – but later on it was brought to the knowledge of the Cabinet.”
We hear exactly the same phraseology of futility eight years later.
In July 1914 when war was certainly decided on and when, as Sir Edward Grey’s speech of August 3rd shows, it had been prepared for and made certain by a series of naval and military agreements, he comes forward with a final assurance that a Fleet in line of battle at sea to support an Army in line of battle on land is only a measure of “diplomatic support”.
This time it is the Assurance of July 27th, 1914 to the Russian Government feverishly mobilising all its forces for war that in order to ensure peace Sir Edward Grey pledges them the full strength of the British Fleet that will not disperse but will remain mobilised – to be used “for diplomatic support only.”
The military agreement with France in November 1912, the precedent “conversations” in 1906 between “naval and military experts,” the attempt to compromise Belgian neutrality under the pretext of defending it by a military convention, the Russian understanding in Persia and elsewhere, and finally mobilisation of the British fleet in June-July 1914 under the guise of a review by King George – all these well-planned and carefully devised steps to ensure war are dismissed as kindly efforts to furnish “diplomatic support” to Powers with which Great Britain had no agreement of any kind, her hands being always “entirely free.”
If Sir Edward Grey believed the things he said in his despatches to British representatives abroad, and later in his explanation to the House of Commons, we must believe him to be a very incompetent man.
If he did not believe the things he said we must believe him to be a rogue. Now I know Sir Edward Grey well enough to believe that he is at heart a kindly and well-disposed man, with very good intentions; and so I am convinced he believed the things he said.
I prefer to regard him, not as the villain of the piece, but as he himself once put it, “the fly on the wheel” of State – the victim rather than the vindicator of British Imperial aims.
Those aims were already fixed, and the driver at his post when, to vary the metaphor, Sir Edward Grey entered the car.
Instead of guiding the engine, he was received as a passenger, and became a helpless spectator as he was being whirled to destruction, along with his country, by a route he knew nothing of and the time-table in other hands. He heard only the voices of the resolute and determined band of imperial criminals who assured him that a war chariot being driven straight into battle was only an international wagon lit (sleeping car, Editor) and that he might sleep in peace until the conductor announced the destination.
To-day, when they have brought the chariot to a standstill on the blood-soaked plains of Flanders and broken its axles in the gullies of Gallipoli, the criminals turn upon the hired man and charge him with bad driving.
Sir Edward Grey did just what he was told to do from the first and now when the “peace, peace” that was cried when the guilty hands were at the engine is turned into the horrid shouts of a war of destruction and annihilation instead of a paean of victory, they raise a cry of incompetence. Incompetent he is indeed, and always has been to control such a vehicle, driven by such men. But the end is not yet.
Sir Edward Grey will not retire. The English do not readily change horses when crossing a stream – and the river into which they have driven grows deeper.
Changes of plan, of direction, there will be – but no change of “driver”. The battle will take on a new front, that is all. The Great War that was devised for the destruction of Germany is now fast developing into one for the downfall of the British Empire. Turkey instead of “digging her own grave with her own hands,” as Asquith assured the world last November, has wielded a shovel in the Gallipoli peninsular that conceivably may dig the grave of the British Empire in the East and in the Mediterranean.
To openly abandon the operations in Gallipoli and admit a crushing defeat at the hands of the despised Turks might at once sound the death-knell of British supremacy in Egypt, to be followed by disaster in India. The way out of the Gallipoli cemetery lies clearly through the harbour of Salonica.
To involve Greece in the World War and get another ‘small nationality” into the fire on behalf of Great Britain’s world empire is a simple effort for those who took up arms on behalf of Belgium’s “violated neutrality”. Greece with 400,000 armed men may yet save the situation. At any rate the fight there, on her soil, with her ports, her coast line, her railways and resources at the disposal of the invaders of her neutrality, will be a much easier one than in the shambles of Gallipoli.
It carries the scene of conflict too, a little further from Egypt and the East. Anything to achieve that. Stir up anew the fire and flame of Balkan animosities. If possible bring Cross against Crescent; put Macedonian against Greek and who knows but that the Empire of the East shall yet escape the shock of battle?
The complete failure of British Foreign policy is indeed in view – but the author of the failure is not Sir Edward Grey.
The war that began in the hope of destroying Germany is drawing to its close in the desperate fear that the British Empire cannot be saved.
To save it now lies far beyond the power of England alone. She must at all costs get fresh allies – involve new neutrals. Indeed if it is to be saved at all she sees that Neutrality itself is a threat. To be neutral to-day is to be the enemy of Great Britain, the foe of British Imperialism.
Greece, no more than Belgium, can be permitted to keep out of the conflict.
Since the Gallipoli adventure, if persisted in, must spell the destruction of British power and prestige in the East, England is determined to transfer the conflict to an easier battlefield and to compel Greece by invasion and conflict on her own soil, to enter the field. A man cannot remain neutral if his home becomes the scene of a furious conflict between a housebreaker, bent on using his house and the neighbour he assails from that vantage point.
Once a conflict can be forced on the soil of Greece between the allied invaders and the Macedonian neighbour it will be impossible for the Greek army not to shoot someone.
The task of the invaders is to see that it shoots only in one direction. That accomplished, England has secured a fresh ally and an army of 400,000 men to help her desperate effort to keep the war from Egypt, the Suez Canal and India.
A fresh “Armenian Massacre” having been deftly provoked by a conspiracy engineered from the British Embassy at Constantinople, whereby English arms, money and uniforms, were to be furnished to the Armenians on condition that they rose against the Turkish Government, England now turns to the humanitarian impulse of the American people to secure a fresh sword against Turkey. America is being stirred with tales of horror against the Turks – with appeals to American manhood on behalf of a tortured and outraged people. The plan was born in the (British) Foreign Office; and the agency for carrying through the conspiracy against Turkish sovereignty in Armenia was Sir Louis Mallet, the late British Ambassador at Constantinople.
Just as the war began with England declaring she was fighting for the cause of Belgian neutrality so will it end with England’s violation of Greek neutrality. The initial lie brings always the final lie – and this time the doom of the liar. The initial lie indeed lies much further back than the falsehood about Belgium. It lies in the falsity of the Liberal party to its pledges to Ireland. In order to undo with the British Electorate, so far as possible, while preserving the Irish vote, the impression that because they were “Home Rulers” in word they were not good Imperialists in fact, the Liberal party consented to the whole domain of foreign affairs being removed from the control of Parliament and handed over to a clique behind the throne. Sir Edward Grey’s part was only that of a weak and ineffective Liberal chosen to represent a Liberalism that had already abdicated, in a Foreign Office it had already agreed to hand over to the enemies of Liberalism. The result was certain and we see its fruits to-day.
King Edward and his secret counsellors had as much concern in a Liberal Foreign Minister’s advent to office as they had in the advent of the Duma or the coming of the Persian “Constitution.” They knew their man and they knew that the Foreign Office was theirs whoever might be nominally placed at its head.
To-day Sir Edward Grey may look back on ten years of “deceit, falsehood and treachery” without a blush. They were not of his planning, and only of his doing in so far as a puppet may be said to do anything.
He even believed, I am sure, throughout the whole period and up to the very declaration of war itself, that he was the Peace Keeper of Europe. He was told so by his advisers – and masters.
The men who for their own ends and the better to conceal their aims dubbed King Edward the plotter “Edward the Peacemaker,” assured the other Edward that he was the greatest Foreign Minister in Europe and that in his strong hands reposed the peace of the world.
And the man who subscribed in my hearing, in November 1901 to Lord Rosebery’s adjuring of his home Rule pledge to Ireland at Chesterfield – and who, in my hearing, got up before that great assembly of Liberals and declared in those perjured words the Liberal Party had a lead of statesmanship to follow – that man could easily believe that it was possible to enter into secret armed “conversations” of naval and military experts, all of them plainly directed to one end alone, the sure and certain attack on one people and one country, and that in so doing he was but pledging the “diplomatic support” of Great Britain to the cause of peace and not to the certainty of war. The price that English Liberalism has paid for its treachery to the cause of Ireland has been to hand the world policy of England over to King Edward VII and Sir Edward Grey.
Now that the end of that policy and of the plotters is well in sight, I hope that Ireland, the Nemesis of the British Empire, will be in at the death.
October 11th, 1915
COMMENTARY BY PAT WALSH:
This article written in The Continental Times is one of the most interesting pieces of writing on foreign affairs ever written by an Irishman. Hardly anyone living will have read it, however, since it has lain neglected for a century by our historians. What states of mind do they have to deny this greatly informative piece about a formative period of world history to the public?
Some of Roger Casement’s writings on foreign affairs were collected in The Crime Against Europe – his only published book – and published in 1915 and 1916 in several versions, in the United States and Germany. I think the article on Sir Edward Grey from The Continental Times has only appeared in German in Irland, Deutschland & Die Freiheit Der Meere & Andere Aufsätze (Jos. C. Hubers Verlag, Diessen vor Munchen, 1916). The Crime Against Europe collection itself only republished in 1958 and by Athol Books in 2003.
Sir Roger Casement on Sir Edward Grey is only one of a couple of dozen writings by Casement that have remained neglected. That a sizeable number of Casement’s writings are unpublished apart from in original form is truly amazing, and hopefully it will be soon rectified.
Recent popular writing on Casement has largely consisted of diversionary action on the infamous Black Diaries. Attending centenary talks on Casement the present writer found speakers slipping in the suggestion that the Black Diaries are now accepted as authentic. By whom?
There is considerable controversy over the validity of the Black Diaries and the behaviour of the holders of them has given every indication that they were contrived for a purpose. The original diversionary objective of the Diaries is successful since argument is guided away from Casement’s substantial activity and writings in life toward argument over a superficial and inconsequential alleged aspect of his personality.
The authentic aspect of Roger Casement of great political consequence are his writings containing inside knowledge of the British State and how it brought about a Great War against Germany that engulfed the world. It was the thing that made Casement so dangerous to Britain and got him hanged. It spoiled the moral propaganda which England was deluging the world with to justify the Great War it had plunged the world into, when exercising its right to maintain supremacy over humanity.
Casement, whilst becoming an Irish nationalist, actually retained an English view of the world that understood instinctively what Britain was going to do with Germany. He did not like what he saw before his eyes and he predicted a criminally irresponsible British World War in the making. Britain went on to prove him wholly right.
The Black Diaries were used to ensure that Casement was not saved by humanitarians and to foul his name as a sexual degenerate in order to reduce the strength of what he revealed in his writings – which was far too close to the truth for comfort.
Casement’s argument that it was Britain’s intention to make War on Germany has never been challenged on its own ground. That is hardly surprising. Any historical knowledge of what Britain was doing from 1905 until 1914, as well as the course of actual events, along with documents and diaries of the important people that were revealed in later years, make any contesting of his view impossible. So Casement’s writings on the international situation are ignored and his sympathy for Germany, arising out of principled opposition to what he knew was being done in high places in England, is put down to a simple intensification of Irish nationalist sentiment within him. And the impression created is that he was deluded, perhaps mad, going into alliance with something he did not really understand the true evil of.
That was the impression conveyed by those explaining Casement to audiences during the centenary meetings. Without people having knowledge of the actual basis of Casement’s writing and consequent activity – his inside knowledge of what Britain intended to do to the world – that argument could past muster. Leaving out the vital part of Casement’s motivation, it was possible to leave the impression that Casement was a tragic, misguided fool and the author of his own tragic misfortune. Another good story for the Irish!
What is contained in Casement’s article on Sir Edward Grey is the unacceptable and dangerous Roger Casement that our historians, if they value their careers, can only refer to, if needs must. That is because if thinking is done on the basis of what Casement wrote then the whole narrative of the Great War collapses.
That Britain was responsible for the Great War there was no doubt in Casement’s mind. The question he addressed himself to was how much was its Foreign Secretary, whom he was acquainted with, was to blame, personally? Casement’s verdict on the charge against Sir Edward Grey that he brought on the Great War on Germany is “Guilty, with diminished responsibility.”
Casement’s argument is that the Great War would have been organised without the particular participation of Sir Edward, as a distinct individual. He was merely “a fly on the wheel of state” using Grey’s own phrase. The prime movers within the British State were determined on their Great War, with or without Grey, and, according to Casement, he was essentially a “useful shield” between their manoeuvrings and his party colleagues who dominated Parliament from 1906 to 1909. Grey was the balm to the English Liberalism and the “great English Democracy” as John Redmond came to call it.
In his verdict on Edward Grey Casement identifies the Liberal Imperialist development as being at the root of what subsequently happened within both British Liberalism and Ireland, to produce Britain’s Great War.
The Liberal Party, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, was a coalition of many parts: the Whigs, who were basically the older aristocratic element which had dominated the Party prior to the 1832 reform; a large group of Liberals whose main preoccupation was advocacy of free trade; the Radical Nonconformists; and finally a social reform tendency grouped around Joseph Chamberlain. Liberalism was highly volatile ideologically and as the 1880s came it began to coalesce into three distinct tendencies – Gladstonian/traditional Liberalism, Liberal Unionism and Liberal Imperialism.
Casement suggests that back in 1880, in the days of Gladstone, British General Elections were still won and lost on issues of Foreign Affairs, before a kind of bi-partisan relationship was established between the two major parties of State, resulting from the Liberal acquiescence to Imperialism.
This was a peculiar point in English history. Christianity was ceasing to be a functional ideological medium of life for the English middle class, which had become the critical mass of political life in Britain as a result of their admittance to the franchise in the 1832 Reform. The British Empire was at the same time made by a body politic composed of a religiously sceptical ruling gentry supported by theocratic Protestant passions within the populace, cemented together by historic Anti-Catholicism.
But the science that was essential to the growing power of the Imperial State and the prosperity of the middle class, and which was bound up with industry and what was called “Manchester Capitalism,” gradually undermined the Christian belief system after attempts were made to reconcile the two. This development proved to be profoundly disorientating.
The ideological medium that bound together the different elements in English society, including the large proletariat that Manchester Capitalism had produced as a product of its unprecedented scientific/industrial development, was Imperialism. This was made into Social Imperialism to perform a cohesive function, particularly involving the proletariat that once brought into existence had to be sated in some way.
In 1876 there was a great mobilisation in English society around the “Bulgarian atrocities” with Gladstone at its head. It produced the forgotten “National Convention” at St. James’ Hall – a last gambit to reunite British Protestantism in an alternative course. It failed. However, as The Times noted, the substance had to be taken account of by the State and could not be ignored.
Gladstone won the 1880 election on the back of it, as Casement noted. Then the British State absorbed the mobilisation, directing the discordant and potentially dangerous impulses it produced and pressed it into positive service. The Nonconformists became Imperialists with the more devout forming the Liberal humanist wing of the Imperial State and others developing toward Liberal Imperialism, as Imperialism became the social cement. The dissenters dissented from the worst of the Imperial savagery applied to the ‘savages’. But they understood that it was the rougher edges of the thing they were all united in together, which was understood across the board as “Progress” and “Civilising”.
In 1886 there was a split in the Liberal Party when Joseph Chamberlain, the Birmingham industrialist, and his social reformers left the party, dissatisfied with Gladstone’s adoption and preoccupation with Irish Home Rule. Chamberlain’s social reform radicalism which came from his experience as a successful manufacturer and which saw the necessity of state welfare provision to support the developing capitalism, was a new development in Liberalism and it sat uneasily with the laissez faire traditional liberalism of Cobden and Bright.
But the Irish Home Rule issue was only the occasion of the split in Liberalism, which was already on its way to being divided over social policy in 1886. The Liberal Party contested the 1885 election virtually as two parties with Gladstone tolerating the Chamberlain group with its ‘Unauthorised Programme’ of social reform for purposes of winning the election. When the election was over Gladstone’s adoption of Home Rule, after private consultations with Parnell, was seen by Chamberlain as a political diversion to prevent what was needed to be done in Britain on social reform.
The Chamberlainites voted with the Tories against the Home Rule Bill and supported the Conservative Government from the Liberal benches over the following six years. They remained a distinct element outside both the Liberal and Tory parties for nearly a decade.
The Unionist Party was formed in 1894 after the defeat of the Second Home Rule Bill by a merger of the Tory Party under Lord Salisbury with the social radical section of the Liberals, led by Chamberlain. The Unionist Party dominated British political life from 1886 to 1905 and its Irish administration provided the most thorough reforming government ever experienced in Ireland, with its enactment of local government democracy and the great Land Act of 1903.
The Unionist Party’s successful mix of Imperialism and social reform set the political agenda in Britain and had fundamental repercussions for the Liberal Party. Whilst Gladstone lived his party remained anti-imperialist (in the sense that it did not support expansive spreading of the Empire). But after Gladstone’s retirement as Leader of the Liberals in 1894, a Liberal Imperialist tendency developed, fostered by Lord Rosebery, his successor. This was a reaction to the ‘irresponsible’ Radicalism and the Home Rule policy which was seen as having debilitated the party.
The most notable New Radicals or Liberal Imperialists were Herbert Asquith, Richard Haldane and Edward Grey. Despite Rosebery’s resignation after the 1895 Election defeat, this ambitious younger element availed of a new outbreak of Jingoism, generated by the Boer War, to promote Liberal Imperialism, which then took definite shape within the Liberal Party as a tendency. The Liberal Imperialists sought to outflank Unionism by trumping it on both Imperialism and social reform on a programme of “efficiency”.
Gladstonian Liberalism had pledged itself to Irish Home Rule. But, after the Second Home Rule Bill had been defeated by the Lords in 1893, Gladstone’s Government decided not to make this the occasion for an appeal to the country. In March 1893, Lord Rosebery, on replacing Gladstone and becoming Prime Minister, declared that Irish Home Rule could not come about until there was a majority for it in England, which he called the “predominant partner” in the Union. In 1896, Haldane, declared that a step-by-step approach to Home Rule would be better than a Home Rule Bill. Gladstone’s policy was scuppered.
Lord Rosebery’s antagonism towards any measure of Irish Home Rule increased after John Redmond’s 1898 amendment, calling for an independent Irish Parliament. And he voiced his antipathy to the Irish after the Nationalists had defeated a Bill to provide for a statue to Oliver Cromwell inside the Houses of Parliament at public expense. Rosebery paid for its erection himself, at the entrance to the building, and spoke at its unveiling in November 1899, just as the Boer War was getting under way.
The Liberal Imperialist position against Home Rule was based on several arguments: that the Irish alliance had been abrogated by Redmond; that the resurrection of a Home Rule Bill was futile in the light of Irish Party disunity after the Parnell split; and that the Irish question had been transformed by the Unionist Local Government Bill of 1898. Asquith, Grey and Haldane urged the adoption of an instalment approach to the Home Rule question by the Liberal Party, while Rosebery put forward the view that the disloyalty of the Irish leaders in the Boer War had disqualified the country from Home Rule altogether.
The ranks of the Liberal Imperialist faction in the Liberal Party were greatly swelled during the Boer War. At the “Khaki Election” of 1900 they put forward 56 candidates whose “unimpeachable patriotism” was guaranteed to the electorate by a newly-founded Imperial Liberal Council. But, during the election, the Unionists did not distinguish between Liberal Imperialist and “pro-Boer” Liberal and won a decisive victory by persuading the country that “every seat won by the Liberals was a seat won by the Boers”.
Casement refers to Rosebery’s most significant speech, made at Chesterfield in December 1901, where, along with defending martial law and the British Concentration Camps in South Africa, he called on the Liberal Party to realise the strength it would gain by embracing the Imperialist sentiment of the nation and rejecting as a liability Irish Home Rule and other “fly-blown phylacteries of obsolete policies”. He called for a “clean slate” with regard to Liberal policy on Ireland, one which would involve the wiping away of the Gladstonian pledge to bring in a Home Rule Bill.
The adaptation of Liberalism to Imperialism as the undisputed medium of historical development in the world was to have the most fundamental implications for the Irish Party. Since the English State was the main agent of progress in the world, the Liberal Party had to be Imperialist in some shape or form if it was going to govern the State—and the world. And the Irish Party began to adjust itself to this development to secure another Home Rule Bill. Redmond the nationalist separatist became Redmond the nationalist Imperialist.
The thrust of British Imperial thinking prior to the Great War was that any remaining small nations were giving way to the Imperial super-state and the whole world was coming under its sway, in an inevitable progression of history. The old “anti- imperialist” Liberalism of the era of Gladstone was being superseded and becoming obsolete. Liberalism was adapting to the new Imperialism by producing an even more vigorous Imperialism than the Social Imperialism of Unionism and reconciling itself to what was seen as the general trend of progress. Even the Gladstonian Liberals now spoke of “constructing the Empire on Liberal principles”.
There was nearly twenty years between the Second and Third Home Rule Bills. After the Boer War, Irish Home Rule was off the political agenda. The Liberal Party beat a hasty retreat from its Gladstonian pledge. When the Liberals returned to power in 1906 with their biggest majority ever they would not touch Home Rule and Redmond could do little about it. When the Liberals achieved a settlement in South Africa by accommodating the Boer enemy to the Empire he demand for Irish self-government began to re-emerge, in a new Imperial context, founded on the South African example. The future was Imperial with the Liberal argument for Irish self-government being expressed in terms of a strengthening of the Empire rather than a right in itself.
The division that began to emerge within British politics was now over whether measures of self-government increased the loyalty of component peoples of the Empire or not, and it was to the Liberal’s adoption of this position, after the South African settlement, that Redmond and the Irish Party began to adopt. Irish Nationalism and British Imperialism began to be portrayed as complimentary within the general Liberal acquiesence to Imperialism and this became an Irish concession to Liberal Imperialism to gain Home Rule.
Redmondism, the Irish accommodation to the Liberal Imperialist development in Liberalism, had the effect of binding Ireland intimately to the development of Liberal Imperialism within the Liberal Party from around 1909 onwards. This bargain between the Irish Party and the Liberal leaders involved performing England’s mission in the world and making Ireland an active and energetic component of “Greater Britain” in return for a measure of Home Rule.
When a Parliamentary stalemate ensued in two elections during 1910 between the Liberal Government and Unionist opposition the Third Home Rule Bill was granted to Redmond by the Liberal Imperialist leadership of the Government that had previously disavowed it. However, the fact that a coterie within this tendency had begun to arrange for a Great War on Germany in collaboration with their Unionist Home Rule opponents and other elements outside the party system/democracy made for an unstable and ultimately explosive mix in British politics that was to blow up 4 years later.
Casement’s Irish nationalism developed within the shifting sands of English Liberalism and the Redmondite Imperialist development in Ireland.
Casement saw Edward Grey as a most unsuitable person for the post of Foreign Minister. Grey had been sent down from Balliol College, Oxford, for idleness and when he returned only achieved a Third class Degree. He seemed to have little interest in foreign countries, never leaving England. He was a Whig country gentleman preferring solitude in the English countryside, bird-watching and fly-fishing. Only through duty as a member of a famous political family did he become an MP and serve under Rosebery, his mentor, in the Foreign Office.
But Casement presumably did not know that Grey had also been involved in a pivotal moment of British Foreign Policy, even before he took up office as Foreign Secretary in 1905/06.
Leopold Maxse wrote a very influential article in his National Review entitled British Foreign Policy around November 1901 proposing the idea of an agreement with the traditional European enemy of England and an Anglo-French Entente. A month later Maxse published another article in the National Review under the title, Some Consequences Of An Anglo-Russian Undertaking, which considered the other piece in an anti-German jigsaw through an arrangement with England’s major geopolitical enemy. Edward Grey made suggestions on the drafts and congratulated Maxse on the effect of his first article.
The general idea for a new British Foreign Policy crafted by Maxse and Grey was that the decks should be cleared of all obstructions to facilitate alliances with England’s traditional rivals, France and Russia, in order to re-orientate against a new enemy, Germany.
These articles, signed “ABC etc.”, were taken very seriously in Russia, France, Germany and Japan, and a considerable amount of time was spent in efforts to find out who was behind it. Only recently has the truth come out.
Leopold Maxse’s articles were not just another anti-German article in England because the people who were intimately involved in its composition were in a position – or would be in a position soon afterwards – to do something about the ideas in it. And they did do something, with the result that the article entitled British Foreign Policy turned out to be the British Foreign Policy, from 1906 onwards, under the Liberal Imperialist Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey.
Maxse’s collaboration with Grey and those who would surround him in the Foreign Office along with Lord Rosebery, his mentor and leader of the Liberal Imperialists – George Saunders, The Times Berlin correspondent; Sir Roland Blennerhasset, President of Queen’s College, Cork; Charles Hardinge, Secretary of the St. Petersburg Embassy and Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office 1905-10; and William Tyrrell, Grey’s future Private Secretary at the Foreign Office. Hardinge made sure the article found its way into important hands in Russia and later actually put the policy into operation in conjunction with his superior, Grey.
In January 1902 Maxse published a further article entitled A Plea For The Isolation Of Germany under the name, C.P. in his National Review. Grey implemented Maxse’s suggested policy of isolation/encirclement or, as the Germans called it, Einkreisungspolitik.
If one places oneself in Germany’s shoes, how was this to be interpreted? Grey might have assured Germany that he was a lover of peace and his strategy was merely to confine Germany to her current territories and strength – a purely defensive measure on England’s part. But what of the intentions of France and Russia that Germany had to take account of? France was looking to recover Alsace and Lorraine and Russia was an expansionist State of large proportions on Germany’s Eastern flank. Even if Britain was reluctant to strangle Germany in conjunction with the other two, could it be relied upon to stay out of a conflict begun by them? That was the problem that increasingly confronted Germany until it was forced to act for its own security. Edward Grey made sure that the Germans never secured a straight answer on the question that would most determined activity.
The Liberal Imperialists achieved a strategic reorientation in British Foreign Policy reasserting the traditional impulse of the Balance of Power strategy. During 1901-02 Joseph Chamberlain advanced an alternative proposal of an Anglo/German/American alliance. Chamberlain was of the opinion that the recent South African conquest should be the final enlargement of the Empire and that emphasis should be shifted to internal consolidation with Imperial Preference. The Germans offered shares and participation to the British in the Railway they were proposing from Berlin to Baghdad and Balfour pondered on the issue. Things were in the balance.
Chamberlain’s policy and the Railway scheme were vociferously opposed by the Liberal Imperialists who out-Imperialled the Unionists in Parliament and Press. Balfour began to shy away from the German Railway collaboration and he hesitated on the Imperial Tariff. Chamberlain’s scheme for Imperial consolidation fell victim to the internal dynamic of British Imperial political life—the desire for continuous and unlimited expansion, superseding all inferior social, economic and political formations in its path around the world.
The Liberal Imperialists trumped Chamberlain’s more limited, definite and realistic Imperial objectives with a new, more virulent, strain surpassing Unionism in its vigour. The combination of Liberal Free Trade and the Imperial creed produced an open-ended expansionism that could not be easily satisfied just at a time when territorial advance was coming up against the colonial possessions of the other powers.
It was the turning point in England’s relationship with Germany and Sir Edward Grey and the Liberal Imperialists were the deciding factor in it.
In January 1903 Grey wrote a letter to the poet, Henry Newbolt, in which he said: “I have come to think that Germany is our worst enemy and greatest danger.” (Keith Robbins, Sir Edward Grey: A Biography of Lord Grey of Fallodon, p. 131)
Grey put the ideas contained in the ABC etc. articles into effect in the 1907 Agreement with Russia, a couple of years after he authorised military substance to the Entente with France. Grey made a settlement of frontier disputes in Asia very favourable to the Tsar.
All the elements that went into the making of the Great War were present in the ABC etc. articles that Grey helped produce: The alliance with Japan; the cultivation of France and Russia as allies; the luring away of Italy from the Triple Alliance and the isolation of Germany; the intention of breaking up the Hapsburg and the Ottoman Empires; and the destabilisation of the Balkans as a potential detonator for a Great War, if all else failed.
In 1905 after the Unionist Government had suffered some by-election defeats, the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, resigned as Prime Minister, despite having a majority of 200 odd MPs over the Liberals. Balfour, seeing his party paralysed by the Tariff Reform issue, decided to sacrifice his Government in the interests of the State and a hanover of the reins of state to the Liberal Imperialists while they remained in a strong position within the Liberal Party.
The King, who was in on the scheme through Lord Esher’s counselling, called for Campbell-Bannerman to form a government. The Liberal leader said he preferred to have a General Election first. The King then suggested to Campbell-Bannerman that he would call for Lord Rosebery, the previous Liberal leader and Liberal Imperialist, to form a government instead.
Campbell-Bannerman was rattled by this threat and he was forced to appoint Ministers prior to an election, which placed the Liberal Imperialists in a much stronger position in negotiations with the Liberal leader. When the Liberals won the 1906 election with a landslide Campbell-Bannerman regretted this decision as it had placed the Liberal Imperialists in command of a large Radical backbench which, if it had been in existence prior to Cabinet appointment, would have undermined the claims of the Liberal Imperialists to high position.
The ABC etc. articles showed how confident Edward Grey was of becoming Foreign Minister in a future Liberal Government and getting his own way on policy. His confidence was based on the fact that as second-in-command to Rosebery he had cultivated friendly and influential connections in the important places, beyond the democracy. The fact that Grey had been an advocate of developing “an understanding” with France, even before the Unionists had perceived any advantage to such a policy made him the favourite candidate of the Foreign Office to be their chief upon the assumption of power by the Liberals.
When Grey entered the Cabinet in 1905-06, having the backing of powerful figures at the Foreign Office and elsewhere, he had the presumption to stipulate that his leader Campbell-Bannerman should agree to clear the decks for him by entering the House of Lords. Grey had supported the Unionist Government’s conquest the Boer Republics, defending the military sweeps, blockhouses, crop-burning and concentration camps that were used to win the war. He had attempted to remove Henry Campbell-Bannerman from the leadership of the Liberal Party for opposing the war and calling the military measures used “methods of barbarism.” When Grey was frustrated by the new Premier’s desire to lead from the Commons, Grey demanded a free hand in Foreign Policy as the price of loyalty and party unity.
Grey, Asquith and Richard Haldane had formed a pact – the Relugas Pact, named after Grey’s fishing lodge where it was hatched – with demands for the top offices of State. The King was prompted to suggest to Campbell-Bannerman that due to his age, a peerage might be better so he could take himself off to the Upper House, so that Asquith could lead the government from the Commons. This was a key demand of the Relugas Pact. Campbell-Bannerman resisted this demand, but conceded most of the other demands of the Liberal Imperialists and Grey was made Foreign Minister, with Asquith Chancellor and Haldane, Minister of War.
The Times collaborated in the arranging of the next government through a series of editorials in November and December. One advised that: “Sir Edward Grey would be in the Cabinet the chief guarantee to the country that the rash world of his leader would not be allowed to bring forth fruit in action, and further, that due continuity would be maintained in foreign affairs.” (5.11.05)
Campbell-Bannerman had wanted Lord Cromer as his Foreign Secretary. But Cromer represented the old position of the Great Game against Russia and Imperial conflict with France. Though much more experienced and qualified than Grey he was most unsuitable for the new Foreign Policy that was being developed by the Liberal Imperialists.
The formation of the new Liberal Government was a collaboration at the highest levels of State to protect the new drift of British Foreign Policy and ensure there were no interruptions of the transformation by the Democracy.
The resignation of Balfour followed by the formation of a Liberal Government, prior to a General Election, meant a political vacuum took up the early months of 1906. This allowed the State, under the auspices of the new Liberal Imperialist Ministers, unrestrained by their campaigning Gladstonian Party Leader, to begin organising for the project of a War on Germany without any unwelcome political interference.
Prior to his decision to resign Balfour had alerted those in the Liberal Party whom he favoured to take up the vital Ministries of State. Influential elements within the ruling strata went to work behind the scenes to ensure a “continuity of foreign policy” took place. In July 1905 Richard Haldane went to the Palace to give a detailed resume of the factions within the Liberal Party to the King. He stayed over night to advise King Edward what to do in relation to Campbell-Bannerman becoming Prime Minister so as to preserve continuity and the safety of the State.
At the same time Balfour saw to it that King Edward arranged a meeting to consolidate the Committee of Imperial Defence to protect its existence and work, against Campbell-Bannerman, who was known to be suspicious of its doings. Lord Esher advised that he and Lord Milner be appointed permanent members of the CID to bolster it against the new government. Balfour thought the appointment of Milner would be too divisive, given his record in South Africa, which had made him a hate-figure among some Liberals. Esher was asked whether he would take the post of War Minister in the new government himself, but he declined, considering the Committee of Imperial Defence more important in the freedom of action it gave him.
Casement refers to the “unseen but omnipotent forces”, the “permanent powers that direct British policy”, and “the ring of irresponsibles around the King who drove the coach of state surely and relentlessly to a well-planned war with Germany”. And he informs his readers that “the war against Germany was decreed years ago by those powers that own the Foreign Office”.
Casement was well aware, it appears, of the powerful coterie around Lord Esher and the King, who acted as his own Foreign Minister before Grey took up the reins. By maintaining an independence from formal responsibility Esher maintained a freedom that politicians lacked, the freedom to think about things from the point of view of the interests of the State and its long-term strategic objectives free from the hindrances of popularity in the democratic age. It enabled him to get things done in the background through organising the important people with the right outlook in the important positions of State, aided by the Crown.
There is a series of correspondence from around 1903 between Esher and Balfour in which the Prime Minister is advised how to reform the war fighting machinery of the State by Esher, in the aftermath of the Boer War. Out of this came the idea of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
Balfour and Esher built the CID into a regular department of the British State with a permanent Secretariat composed of Army and Navy representatives. The idea behind this was to construct a substance beyond the democracy and protect it against future Liberal Ministers who might wish to divert it from its work or run it down. Campbell-Bannerman was confronted with a substance he dared not challenge and he was forced to acquiesce in its activity. The Committee just had to bide its time until the Prime Minister was gone. The Liberal Imperialists who obtained the key Ministries of War and Foreign Affairs in the new Cabinet when the government changed hands in 1905/6 had only the problem of keeping its activities from the prying eyes of the Liberal Party.
Lord Esher seems to have been the main driving force behind the political manoeuvrings that put the right men, who were in favour of the reorientation project, in the right offices, to see it through. Esher afterwards exercised a position of general surveillance over the War Office, being provided with confidential information by the Prime Minister and Sir George Clarke, the first Secretary to the CID, before Maurice Hankey took over.
The 1903-05 period was crucial to the future direction of things in Britain, but it is one of those periods that lies unexplored by its historians – something that can only be deliberate. What Balfour achieved, in effect, was a clearing away of alternative courses for Britain and the securing of the re-orientation of British Foreign Policy that had just begun through its transfer to other reliable hands in the opposing party. How remarkable!
Immediately upon assuming office in December 1905 Grey made a fundamental alteration to the 1904 Entente Cordiale. The informal conversations that had begun to take place under Lord Landsdowne in the Balfour Government between figures in the General Staffs of the British and French armies were given formal authorisation, for the first time, by Grey. In December 1905, Grey confirmed General Huguet’s estimates of the size of a British Expeditionary Force needed on the continent for a War with Germany. Then Haldane, at the War Office, began to build it.
The military conversations between the British and French military staffs became formalised in the period when the government of the State was being handed over from Balfour to the Liberals. All the evidence suggests that Eureka! there is suddenly a unanomous understanding within the highest levels of the State that England needs to fight a Great War on the continent against Germany and needs to get organised to do so.
By the time Campbell-Bannerman, who had not authorised the conversations, took charge after the election, he was faced with a fait accompli. Grey cleverly suggested the new Prime Minister go to his Cabinet to secure authorisation for the conversations knowing Campbell-Bannerman dared not risk his new Government with the possibility of a split in his party. The Cabinet never found out about the conversations, formally authorised by Grey and which continued to be developed under his watch, until November 1911, after the death of Campbell-Bannerman and his replacement by Asquith.
Edward Grey, himself, never sought Cabinet approval for these military conversations between British staff officers and the French, justifying secrecy by suggesting that these conversations did not involve an actual solid commitment to fighting in any war that might occur, and therefore nobody need know. Maurice Hankey, Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence and then War Cabinet Secretary, noted that they “took place in the utmost secrecy”:
“No reports were made to either Cabinet or Committee of Imperial Defence about them. Plans drawn up by the General Staff as a result of these secret conversations were communicated to the Committee of Imperial Defence but the conversations themselves were never alluded to. It was not until six years later and after two general elections had taken place, that Grey in 1912 took the Cabinet into his confidence in the matter.” (The Supreme Command, p.62-3)
Hankey, “the man of secrets” who knew everything, revealed that:
“Grey and Haldane in their memoirs make a strong technical case for these conversations, without which military co-operation on the Continent could only have taken place in an improvised form and with disastrous loss of time. But the better the case the easier it should have been to carry the Cabinet in the decision. As it was, a considerable amount of suspicion was aroused among members of the Cabinet who were not ‘in the know’, and some of this was directed against the Committee of Imperial Defence, which was completely innocent in the matter; Morley frequently cross-examined me on subject but, as I had no precise knowledge, I was unable to inform him.” (p.63)
Prime Minister, Asquith, Foreign Secretary, Grey and War Minister, Haldane denied all knowledge to Parliament of the arrangements being made, using very careful language that conveyed the impression that nothing was being done that committed England to war on Germany in conjunction with France (and Russia).
Grey’s attitude to unwelcome questions from Liberals in Cabinet and Parliament about his conduct of Foreign Policy is summed up in a letter he wrote to his Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, Thomas Sanderson:
“…one of the difficulties that exists with colleagues is to convince them there are such things as brick walls; the most certain way of doing this is to let them run their heads against them.” (K.M.Wilson, The Policy of the Entente, p.172)
And so Grey stonewalled, with the support of the Unionist Opposition.
By 1911, with Campbell-Bannerman gone, significant War planning had taken place within the War Office, Army and Navy and it had begun to be co-ordinated by the Committee of Imperial Defence. Hankey had started to compile his War Book – the instruction manual for every branch of State to know what needed to be done on a Declaration of War.
The Cabinet had still not been informed of the War planning when the Foreign Minister made a significant speech to the leaders of the Dominions instructing them to go back to their Colonies and prepare for military operations against Germany in Africa and the Pacific on a future Declaration of War. Hankey noted that in Grey’s speech to the Imperial Conference in 1911 “we find the underlying cause of our intervention in the Great Wars of 1914 and 1939.” (p.129)
The gist of Grey’s speech is the Balance of Power: He said that Britain would always wish to involve itself in a war with a European Power or group of Powers who had the ambition of a “Napoleonic policy”. By this he meant that a preventative war would be waged against any Power that England believed was attempting to unite Europe so that Britain no longer had any allies on the Continent to use in its traditional Balance of Power policy. The development of what Grey called “one great combination in Europe, outside which we should be left without a friend” was a situation which he was not about to allow develop without war.
At the Imperial Conference Grey also gave the Liberal argument for acting in an aggressive way: If a situation were to occur without British intervention to prevent it England would have to pay for ships not just to a Two Power Standard but to a Five Power Standard to “keep the command of the sea.” (Britain in taking Grey’s gamble subsequently lost the command of the sea and dramatically increased its balance of payments deficit by ten-fold, crippling it financially for the action required to police the world it had gained after it had won its Great War.)
The Redmondites, in August 1914, presented the Great War on Germany as a great democracy going to war against the “Prussian Oligarchy”. But the “great English democracy” did not plan, organise or arrange the Great War on Germany. It was the work of the political and military oligarchy in the British Foreign Office and Committee of Imperial Defence, supervised by a small Liberal Imperialist coterie, working effectively behind the back of the democracy.
The semblance of a democratic parliament existed, but as Casement notes the guidance of Foreign Policy would not be entrusted to it in the democratic age. That was the essence of the Liberal Imperialist movement. The continuity of Foreign Policy which they brought about was not the continuation of the policy of 1815-1905 but the continuation of Foreign Policy guided by an elite, who were determined on a great discontinuity – the re-orientation for War on Germany.
As Casement notes Gladstone attempted to make Foreign Policy a party issue and raised a big campaign within civil society over the “Bulgarian Horrors”. But having won an election on working up the masses he then thought better of it.
It was the fear that the democracy might interfere with Foreign Policy that led to the establishment of the Committee of Imperial Defence by the Unionist Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, and the ensuring that Edward Grey became Foreign Minister, so that continuity of Foreign Policy was maintained across administrations. It was the thing that the ABC etc. articles made a great point of addressing, so that Russia and France could be assured of England’s continued commitment the military conversations which had just begun and support in a future war on Germany, whatever the management.
The Foreign Office maintained the privilege of acting in secret and retained the right to report Treaties, either not at all, or only in such parts as it deemed advisable, to Parliament. Parliament was only given the right to question such arrangements if it found out about them first, and then it could only question the Foreign Minister in formal interrogatories. General questions could be put to him, as to whether a Treaty had been made or not, but he was not obliged to reveal its terms, if he chose not to. In the period from 1909 Grey was very evasive and used tricky language to disguise what was happening in the background, to Parliament. Formal, open treaties were avoided in favour of secret commitments and debts of honour. Foreign Policy was kept close to the chest of those who confided their policy solely to the memory and honour of fellow gentlemen.
A good insight into the mind of Grey is given in a memo sent in January 1906 at the time of the Moroccan crisis, to Sir Francis Bertie, the British Ambassador in Paris, concerning the position that should be taken to the French request for a formal assurance Britain would fight alongside them in a coming war on Germany:
“Much would depend as to the manner in which war broke out between Germany and France. I did not think people in England would be prepared to fight to put France in possession of Morocco. They would say that France should wait for opportunities and be content to take time, and that it was unreasonable to hurry matters to the point of war. But if, on the other hand, it appeared that the war was forced upon France by Germany to break up the Anglo-French ‘entente’, public opinion would undoubtedly be very strong on the side of France. At the same time M. Cambon must remember that England at the present moment would be most reluctant to find herself in a great war…” (FO 371/70)
The British position that “…it was unreasonable to hurry matters to the point of war” could only be understood by the French as confirming that Britain was predisposed and was willing to fight a great war against Germany under the right circumstances and right moment, after thorough preparations had been fully made. The preparations that Grey had began with the secret conversations. And it impressed on the French the importance of British public opinion for the Liberal Imperialists. The major obstacle to the fighting of a Great War was, for Grey, the attitude of the Liberal rank and file. Grey was determined to participate in a European war against Germany at the right moment but his desire was for a united front to be shown to the Germans by the country. Only such a united front would maintain the Liberal principle of voluntarism and ward off Unionist demands for Compulsory military service.
Senior members of the Liberal Cabinet only became aware of the contingencies for War the Foreign Secretary and the Liberal Imperialist coterie had made in November 1912, when Grey finally revealed the conversations with the French General Staff to them. But they were kept sweet by Grey’s argument that the conversations were conditional and non-binding in character. While the pacifist element in the Cabinet were left to feel that they had achieved something by preventing an obligatory alliance with the French from taking place, Grey gained the Cabinet’s consent to what was actually taking place. And this Grey communicated immediately to the French – who realised its importance in removing the potential situation of half the British Cabinet being only made aware of the war plans of their government on the eve of war, and a revolt occurring at the decisive moment. It also had the great advantage of enabling the military contacts with the French to feel securer in their plans and to be able to develop them more fully in the knowledge that they would not be found out by an outraged Cabinet and suddenly disowned.
There had been suspicions and criticism of Grey’s conduct of Foreign Policy through 1909-11 among some Liberal backbenchers and John Dillon of the Irish Party. Important questions had been asked in Parliament, which the Foreign Secretary evaded. But once the Home Rule struggle developed between the Liberal Government and the Unionist Opposition with the introduction of the 1912 Bill Liberal suspicion of Grey was dissipated, criticism began to cease and the desire to probe his secret dealings and arrangements ended. The Gladstonian Liberals acquiesced to Grey’s Foreign Policy – which was declared to be conducted in the interests of peace but which they suspected to be something else – through party loyalty in the intensifying struggle with the Unionists that culminated in the near civil war over Irish Home Rule.
The Gladstonian Liberals found themselves in the same dillema over Grey’s Foreign Policy as the Irish Party were in over Home Rule, in relation to the Liberal Imperialist leadership. If they voted against the Government they brought all their desired social reforms and Irish Home Rule down with it and let the Unionists in, and everything was thrown away. So they supported the Liberal Imperialist naval expenditure on the “better the devil you know basis” not realising they did not know the devil at all.
W.T.Stead was one of the great mobilisers in the “Bulgarian atrocities” back in 1876. The famous and influential Liberal journalist who drowned on the Titanic, began to suspect all was not what it seemed with Edward Grey, by 1910. Stead was shocked at Grey’s failure to defend International Treaties during the Italian assault on Libya in 1911. Britain had insisted upon and made these treaties, which formed the Public Law of Europe and which previous Foreign Secretaries had defended through war or the threat of it, particularly in relation to the Tsar.
Stead was appalled that a constant of British Foreign Policy – the guarantees England had made in relation to the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire in the International Treaties it had signed up to in 1856, 1871 and 1878 – was being abandoned with the failure to follow through on its pledges to go to war to defend it. The Treaty of Berlin and Cyprus Convention were being undefended for the first time by a British Foreign Minister and Italian aggression was being appeased.
Stead was an unlikely defender of the Ottomans. He described himself as the greatest Gladstonian “bag and baggage anti-Turk alive”. But he thought that something strange was afoot when Grey was acting, or not acting, in the destruction of the framework of stability that England had put in place with the other European Powers over the last half century. Stead published Tripoli and the Treaties; or Britain’s duty in this war, a book protesting Italy’s invasion of Ottoman Libya and asking why Britain was not lifting a finger to protest or prevent it.
Stead smelt a rat and instinctively knew that something that really threatened the peace and stability of Europe was afoot. But although Stead could not see the real reason behind Grey’s actions in relation to the Ottoman Empire he was observing a momentous revolution in British Foreign Policy, presided over by Grey, that was tearing up the Treaties on which the peace of Europe and beyond rested and which ultimately led to the Great War on Germany and Ottoman Turkey.
For twenty years Stead had urged on Britain a revolution in its Foreign Policy. He believed that a settlement with Russia was indispensible to peace in Europe. In 1907 that agreement had taken shape with a settling of accounts in the Great Game. Edward Grey sold the agreement in England as a peace policy and that was music to the ears of Stead and the Liberals, who despite their detestation of ‘Russian autocracy’ were prepared to celebrate the agreement as securing the peace of the world.
In 1911 Stead could not connect Grey’s activity, or lack of it, in relation to Libya, to this policy because how could his heart’s desire be producing something altogether different? And that very much gets to the heart of Sir Edward Grey.
What greatly facilitated War in 1914 was the peculiar nature of British politics between 1911 and 1914. Grey and the Liberal Imperialist leaders of the Government utilised the Tory and Press attacks on them to beat down their own Radicals and continue on the course they had set unmolested by Parliament. In the same way they occupied the Gladstonian anti-war element by letting them have their way against the Tories in the domestic sphere, whilst they procured the Irish Party as loyal allies through the Home Rule struggle.
Once the Home Rule fight was joined, the Liberal Backbench and Irish Party settled into a passive contentment with Imperial Foreign Policy. By August, 1914 the Irish Party had become a virtual annexe of the Liberal Party. Having gone the whole way on Home Rule together, Redmond and his colleagues were in the pockets of Grey and the Liberal Imperialist coterie and they made the supreme sacrifice in August 1914 at the vital hour.
As Casement pointed out, Edward’s Grey’s slippery Foreign Policy, that could never be pinned down, greatly oiled the wheels of war. Grey’s insistence on maintaing England’s freedom of action and refusal to agree to a formal alliance with his allies against Germany was to have a crucial effect in July 1914. Of all Germany’s opponents, only Britain had the freedom to stay out of any escalation once mobilisations for war had begun. However, at the same time, Grey would have understood that Britain was the one power which could determine the entire character of the conflict if it chose to participate. Only Britain had the power to turn a limited European conflict into a World War.
Grey’s activity, or rather non-activity, during the crisis of July/August 1914 encouraged the development of a conflict which, by England joining it, turned it from being a purely European contest involving Germany and Austro-Hungary against Serbia, Russia and France into a conflict involving humanity at large.
Grey’s insistence on Britain’s freedom of action was the major element of uncertainty in the situation that had the effect of lubricating the war. During the critical few days at the end of July, Britain had in great measure the power to determine the course of events in Europe and the future of the world. If Grey had openly declared his intention to commit Britain in support of France that would have exerted considerable influence on German behaviour, which would in turn have greatly influenced Austria. Austria might well have warded off Russian mobilisation by taking a different attitude to Serbia. Or, if Grey had declared an intention to be neutral under specified conditions, that would have influenced French behaviour in drawing back, discouraging Russia.
But Grey chose to do neither of these things. Instead, Grey’s non-committal gave the Germans hope that Britain would remain neutral, and encouraged the Kaiser to back Austria, whilst discreetly signalling to the French and Russians Britain’s intentions if they remained on course for the War that had been planned over a decade.
After Austria had declared war on Serbia both sets of alliances made representations to Edward Grey to determine his position. The Germans argued that if England declared it would remain neutral, France and Russia would dare not to fight. The French and Russians argued that if England declared she would side with them, Germany and Austria would at once back down. Grey decided to do neither of these things and maintained his policy of fatal ambiguity in Britain’s position. Sir Edward, by his deliberate inactivity encouraged neither side to draw back, and instead, manoeuvred both alliances to war. He was either the master puppeteer or the most incompetent of men.
Grey did not have a position that the other European states could take account of when deciding what to do. It looked like indecisiveness on his part at the critical juncture and it has become customary to say that Britain drifted into the War with an honourable man doing his bit but failing in the face of inevitability. But it was nothing like that at all. Grey, Asquith, Haldane and Churchill had all decided a week before the Declaration of War that, in the event of a conflict occurring in Europe, Britain would take part in it. They calculated the chain of events and the drift, encouraged it to occur, and then in the time-honoured fashion of the Balance of Power strategy, they entered the European war as part of a military alliance against Germany.
It was at this point that the ambiguous nature of the Anglo-French Entente he had constructed came into its own for Grey. There were tight treaty obligations existing between France, Germany, Austria and Russia, which would draw them into any war that might break out among any two of the parties. Britain was the only real free agent in the situation and was not bound by treaty to join forces with France or anyone else. Grey had left his options open and Britain was not under any obligation to take part in the war. Britain could afford to let a European conflict run its course and sit back and watch the war run its course, without risking loss to itself, if it chose.
But it decided that the great opportunity had arrived to cut down Germany to size and play for higher global stakes.
The type of arrangement Grey had constructed with France, with no formal commitment, was open to being easily misinterpreted by Germany and could leave her miscalculating in the situation. A preventative open alliance, rather than the vague and semi-secret understandings would have been sensible if Grey had really stood for peace in the world. But Grey’s policy during the crucial week had the effect of a strategic deception on the Germans that encouraged them into war by making them delude themselves that Britain would stay out of it.
The trickiest problem the Liberal Imperialists at the head of the British Government still faced was in bringing the bulk of their party with them in making War on Germany. Insurance was taken out in case this was not achieved. The Liberal Imperialist “inner cabinet” opened up secret negotiations with the Unionist leaders in the week before the British Declaration of War. Asquith, Grey and Haldane calculated that if they could not persuade their Liberal colleagues to go to war, they would have to enlist the Unionists in a coalition to take it on.
The years of meticulous and secret War planning by the State had to be revealed to the Cabinet, Parliament and country at some stage. It was important that it was done so at the vital moment of decision, in the most favourable of circumstances. The War planning was a joint Liberal Imperialist/Unionist venture in which Balfour was intimately involved. When the right crisis emerged in July 1914 a letter was obtained by Grey from the Unionist front bench pledging support for a War on Germany, whatever the circumstance.
Grey and Asquith’s most powerful weapon against Cabinet dissent was the threat of immediate coalition government – with the people who had been threatening the Liberals with civil war over Irish Home Rule only weeks earlier. The letter, produced to the Cabinet, enabled Grey to ensure the bulk of the Liberals supported the War – because not to do so would have resulted in the fall of their Government. The War would still have been declared on Germany for Balance of Power reasons but as a Liberal Imperialist/Unionist coalition war rather than a Liberal War.
It is very important to remember that when Grey made his famous speech on 3rd August, the Germans had not entered Belgium. But formal sanction had been given by the Cabinet to the mobilisation of the British fleet and the immediate mobilisation of the army and reserves, although no decision had been taken to send an ultimatum to Germany, let alone Declare War.
Belgium was the difference between a united Liberal Government making War on Germany and a Coalition of Liberal Imperialists and Unionists declaring it on Germany, leaving a Liberal opposition to it.
Belgium was not as neutral as it was suggested. It was well known in Belgian governing circles, thanks to the efforts of Grey, that England was pursuing a secret policy of War against Germany. The Belgian Ambassadorial record tells us this. The Belgian State was really part of the political front against Germany and a kind of unofficial member of the Entente, that had to remain formally neutral to lure the Germans in. Belgium had its own war aims of an Imperial kind – and subsequently did very well out of the spoils of victory in 1919. Prior to 1909, the Belgian army numbered 100,000 men recruited by volunteering. In 1912 Belgium adopted a military programme raising the war strength of its army to a massive 340,000. In 1913 the Belgian Parliament introduced the principle of universal compulsory service, in preparation to meet her obligations and responsibilities to her ‘allies.’ In August 1914, Belgium was able to put a larger army in the field than Britain – despite, in theory, being a neutral country.
When W.T. Stead visited Belgium in 1888, he took it for granted that it would be implicated in any future European conflict – despite its supposed ‘neutrality’. He described not the “poor little Belgium” of future British war propaganda but a highly militarised society at the centre of the world’s arms industry. And Stead made it clear that if there was a war between France and Germany an attack by either nation would have to cross Belgian territory if it was to be a success because since the Franco-Prussian War “the two Powers have been busily engaged in rendering their respective frontiers impassable, by constructing lines of fortresses against which an invading army from the other side will break its head in vain”. (The Truth about Russia, p.2)
The Liberal press did not believe there was any treaty obligation binding England to protect the neutrality of Belgium. Both the Manchester Guardian and Daily News debated the matter on 1st August 1914 and quoted Lords Derby and Granville, the architects of the treaties in 1839 and 1870, to the effect that:
“Such a guarantee has…the character of a moral sanction to the arrangements which it defends rather than that of a contingent liability to make war. It would no doubt give a right to make war, but would not necessarily impose the obligation. And that is the view taken by most international lawyers. We are, therefore, absolutely free; there is no entanglement with Belgium.”
The Government’s legal advisers did not believe there was any treaty obligation binding England to protect the neutrality of Belgium. The Treaty of 1839 only bound the signatories not to violate Belgian neutrality themselves. It did not in any way bind them to intervene to protect Belgian neutrality. The Treaty’s purpose was to maintain the separation of Belgium from Holland and did not take into consideration the matter of military incursions. From Britain’s point of view, as Lord Loreburn, the former Lord Chancellor, pointed out, the objective was simply that Belgium “should be a perpetually neutral state. We bound ourselves, as did the others, not to violate that neutrality, but did not bind ourselves to defend it against the encroachment of any other Power.” (How the War Came, p.420).
Belgium was one of the most brutal and reactionary of the Imperialist powers. One of its possessions in Africa was referred to, before the war in Britain, as “The Congo Slave State”, where the Belgians worked millions of natives to death.
Casement had exposed the “Congo Slave State” that Belgium had been operating in the Congo nearly a decade before. He expected Edward Grey to do something about it in the moment of exaltation after the great Liberal triumph of 1906. There was also the belief that given the new Liberal Foreign Minister was of the Earl Grey family and the Prime Minister Grey had sponsored the Bill abolishing the slave trade a century earlier he would have some reason to pursue the issue. Britain had means of applying pressure through the Berlin Conference of 1884 which established a set of principles for regulating European behaviour in exploiting the Africans.
However, Edward Grey refused to pressurise or sanction the Belgians, instead demanding that they annex the Congo Free State that King Leopold was ruling as a private fiefdom, to make it into the Belgian Congo.
The Foreign Office, mindful that strong criticism of the Belgians might make them noncompliant for British purposes, made use of Casement’s report to ensure that Belgium would resist a German march-through in any Franco-German War. The Belgian Congo remained in August 1914, to all extensive purposes, what it had been under Leopold’s Congo Free State. But everything was forgiven and forgotten and the Belgians were rewarded by Britain through an extension of their African territories in 1919.
In November 1914 Casement visited Andenne in Belgium where franc tireurs had ambushed a German supply train far behind the lines. The Germans shot 350 men in reprisal. Casement reflected upon the Belgian plight brought about by the miscalculation their government had made in relation to Britain. The Germans had only requested from the Belgian Government a right of way for their army to confront the French army on French soil. Belgium refused at the instigation of England and relied on British support when they resisted the German traverse. This meant that the Belgium Government made its own territory the battlefield of the Great War.
Casement believed that King Leopold, who had presided over the Congo atrocities, would have called on England to guarantee its military forces to Belgium before agreeing to support Britain’s War. Good King Albert, his successor, placed his faith in Britain to defend the “neutrality” it insisted Belgium formally maintain, so that a cassus bellum could be provided for Liberal England. But Britain’s interest lay not in defending Belgium but in waging War on Germany and so it was happy to have the “agony of Belgium” as its rallying cry and Belgium as its glacis. (Casement’s Berlin Diary, 19/11/14 from Angus Mitchell, One Bold Deed of Open Treason, p.64)
Knowledge of such things convinced Casement that Belgium was merely an excuse for War on Britain’s part, a War it was intending to fight anyway. And Casement might have been mindful of a letter he had written to E.D. Morel, the foremost campaigner on the Congo, in July 1909, urging Morel to lay off general criticism of Sir Edward Grey’s general direction of Foreign Policy. (Donald Mitchell, The Politics of Dissent, p.90)
In the Foreign Secretary’s report to Parliament on what he had been doing to keep the peace, Grey made it clear that the Government intended to make war on Germany, in alliance with France and Russia. Grey’s speech was regarded as momentous and a defining moment for those who heard it. But in its presentation of the Government’s case it was fumbling and evasive and it skirted around the fundamental issue of the nature of Britain’s obligation to France. Grey had repeatedly told Parliament that it was entirely free of continental entanglements or obligations, which might require it to participate in a European war. And whilst the Foreign Secretary finally revealed the historical development of the military conversations that had taken place between the British and French general staffs since 1905, he stopped short of arguing that they entailed any obligation to act. He cited documents, leaving out crucial sentences that would have revealed the true nature of the arrangements he had made. And he made an appeal to the individual consciences of the Members, and the “debt of honour” to France which his policy had entailed and he made it clear that he felt it was in the national interest that Britain should save France from defeat.
Grey’s stumbling and disjointed speech was mistaken for honesty and indecision at a moment of great decision. It was described as “solemn” and “sombre”, discounting questioning, and it successfully conveyed the impression that here was a man desperately struggling for peace against all odds, and the sad inevitability of British intervention. Nothing could be further from the truth. But impression, rather than thought and reasoning, meant everything that day.
Grey described the situation as very grave, although he said there was one silver lining amongst the clouds – the situation in Ireland, where the European crisis had over-ridden the Home Rule crisis. This was where the issue of Irish Home Rule again intruded. The Liberal backbenchers, brought to the point of civil war against the Unionists over Irish Home Rule, were loathe to see the Liberal Government fall with its Home Rule Bill. This would have also have had the effect of the Irish dividing the State in a very dangerous situation.
And so up rose John Redmond, offering the alternative of a united State, backed by the Irish. With Redmond came the moral propaganda of the Home Rulers against Germany – the people England had most wronged historically were on Britain’s side in the great moral issue to be decided by War. Liberals, who had previously severely doubted the wisdom of supporting such a British intervention and who opposed it up to the vital hour, now had a righteous war that they could feel good about. Irish Home Rule, the cause of Gladstone, could get on the Statute Book. Liberalism could stay united and the tricky Liberal Imperialists who had engineered the moral dilemma could be prevented from joining the Conscriptionist warmongers. It could be a different war, of good versus evil, of right versus wrong, rather than a Balance of Power militarist adventure.
Grey might have been a Liberal Imperialist but he had enough of the Gladstonian Liberalism within him to prefer such a War. He was a Liberal, after all, and like all liberals he wanted to go to War with a good conscience.
The Liberal Imperialists who planned the War imagined a War something on the lines of that conducted against Napoleonic France a century before, albeit bigger in scale. The Royal Navy was to dominate the seas, blockading Germany into starvation, whilst the French, assisted by a relatively small British army, on one flank and the “Russian Steamroller,” on the other, flattened the German lines. Meanwhile British Colonial forces would seize Germany’s overseas possessions. They resisted calls for Conscription and hired General Kitchener to raise a gigantic volunteer army.
However, the war the Liberals imagined quickly got out of hand. It then had to be either escalated or called off, when the Germans proved a tougher nut to crack than was imagined. There would be no limited liability this time. And, in any case, how could a War fought against Evil be called off and compromise be made with the Devil depicted in Liberal War propaganda to salve the consciences and raise the volunteer armies?
By late 1915, when Casement was writing his article on Sir Edward Grey, it had become evident in England that escalation was needed at home as well as abroad. A different kind of War, involving the full mobilisation of the country, was necessary, which the Liberal Government was not predisposed to wage.
Grey and the other Liberals had retained too much of the laissez faire attitude to be able to see through the project they had began. (It is worth recording that although Lord Esher was strongly associated with the Liberal Imperialists, particularly Asquith and Haldane, he felt that they had enough Gladstonian Liberalism in them to disable them when it came to fighting the Great War they had Declared. Others, with more vigour, were needed to take on the task and he began to organise the necessary transition to Lloyd George etc.) Casement was mistaken in his view that Grey would remain at the head of State.
The Liberal answer to the Unionist demand for Conscription at home and to fight the Great War in a thoroughgoing manner, was to instead attempt to mobilise neutral countries in Britain’s service. It was the Liberal objective, whilst preventing Compulsory service in England, to spread the Great War, by enlisting other peoples into England’s War through a combination of fierce moral propaganda, irredentist bribery and naval/military pressure. But it was not enough for what was declared to be at issue by the Liberals in the War to suffice and the Unionist Opposition began to gain the moral upper hand in the country as the War went increasingly badly.
The Liberals placed a moral duty on others to fight the “war for civilisation” that they would not fight themselves. Pressure was then applied to Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and others to bring them into the War. Setting the Balkans and the Middle East ablaze was done without a thought. And many paid dearly for their services to Britain’s Great War.
Unionist contempt for Liberalism was given traction by the failure of the Liberal Government, which had launched the “Great War in for civilisation” and which failed to impose on the citizen a duty proportionate to the cause it was defending. Conscription was clearly a requirement of the Great War that the Liberal Government had mounted, but they continued to believe that given the Allied numerical superiority a limited war conducted on Liberal principles, and mainly waged by the Royal Navy, would be sufficient to dispose of Germany.
In persisting in fighting the Great War with volunteers the Liberal Government completely debased the idea of “voluntarism” by fostering a campaign of moral harassment that forced all but those with the strongest wills to enlist, at home and abroad.
Casement saw the first manifestations of this in the “Armenian Massacres” which appeared in British propaganda, courtesy of Lord Bryce, who had had an involvement with Casement in his earlier exposures of Belgian atrocities in the Congo.
Casement remembered the “Bulgarian atrocities” which had involved an utterly unsuccessful insurrection which had then produced a successful result due to Great Power intervention. It became a template for the Armenian revolutionaries – insurrection, Ottoman counter-measures/massacres, Great Power intervention. Casement believed that the Armenians were facilitated by the tricky Sir Louis Mallet at the British Embassy in Istanbul and the Foreign Office. Sir Edward Grey had overturned the British Foreign Policy of a century, summed up in the phrase “The Russians shall not have Constantinople” to award the Tsar the city in return for a lend of the “Russian Steamroller” against the Germans. The Armenians were to be the cannon-fodder in a diabolical scheme played for the highest stakes that would involve the destruction of the Ottoman State and the unleashing of passions that would result in the destruction of large historic communities.
As Casement wrote in late 1915 Serbia was being defeated, Bulgaria had joined the enemy, Roumania and Greece had resisted British pressure and stayed out of the War, the Gallipoli Peninsula was about to be humiliatingly evacuated after a failed invasion the loss of 30,000 men, and the Turks had reinforced Mesopotamia.
Sir Edward Grey had claimed to be acting in defence of a supposed system of International Law when it had declared Great War on Germany for marching through Belgium. But in 1915 it had embarked on an Imperialist land grab in the Middle Eastern part of the Ottoman Empire and was making an attempt to force the Greek Government to abandon its neutrality, landing an army on its neutral territory at Salonica. England was making War on two states that were obstructing its Imperial ambitions in the name of International Law, in defiance of the principle of neutrality it was supposedly fighting its Great War for.
This was the political/military context within which Casement wrote his article about Sir Edward Grey.
Just after Casement penned his article, on December 11, 1915 Lord Esher met Grey and recorded in his Diary:
“Edward Grey’s appearance shocked and distressed me… I am afraid his health will not last out the war… he hankers after peace, which he thinks might come sooner than people expect, owing to universal exhaustion. On the other hand he cannot imagine or devise any terms of peace unless Germany admits defeat.
“I had a very long talk with him and was more than ever impressed by his worthiness to maintain the honour and dignity of our country. He is like Castlereagh in his truly British temperament, and in his hatred of shabbiness and trickery.”
A year later, in December 1916, Grey resigned with Asquith as the Lloyd George/Unionist Government took over the running of the War. Grey felt contented that the Foreign Ministry was in good hands as he handed it to Arthur Balfour, who had helped arrange for Grey to be Foreign Secretary a decade before.
Balfour saw the thing that he had tentatively begun, which Grey had facilitated in his decade as Foreign Secretary but had failed of complete, through to fruition.
On March 27, 1932 in a speech at the Albert Hall, on the subject of United Nations inaction, Sir Edward Grey said:
“I do not like the idea of resorting to war to prevent war. What we wish is to prevent war. War is a disagreeable thing, even it is to be resorted to in order to prevent a war. It is too much like lighting a large fire in order to prevent a smaller one.” (Grey of Fallodon, p.353)
Grey was a most effective deluder of others because he could delude himself so effectively. From 1905 he moved things all the time toward War whilst preaching peace. He started a Great War without obviously trying. But by 1915 it was clear that his nature made him incapable of fighting it as thoroughly as a Great War deserved to be fought.
Roger Casement was really much too kind to Sir Edward Grey.
I think “lighting a large fire in order to prevent a smaller one” was exactly what Grey did in August 1914, when Britain intervened in a likely European war in order to make it into a World War. But the thought he had done this himself never crossed the mind of Sir Edward.