Skip to Content

The Spectator at war

The Spectator at war: A call to arms

12 August 2014

8:00 AM

12 August 2014

8:00 AM

Let us say once more what we said as emphatically as we could last week – that the first thing to do is to get Lord Kitchener the five hundred thousand men who he must have to make the country safe. Till that is done, till we have got the men for the firing line, all philanthropic schemes, however good, nay, however essential in themselves, must wait. Sterilized dressings are absolutely necessary, but they must not get in front of the rifles. Therefore, once again, the first duty of ever man between nineteen and thirty is to join Lord Kitchener’s Second Army.  That is his way to help. And the first duty of every lad under nineteen and of every man over thirty is to induce men of military age – we wish, by the way, it has been put at nineteen to thirty-five instead of nineteen to thirty – to go and do their duty.  That is their way to help. Get the men who also have been trained and enlisted long ago, as they are trained and enlisted in Switzerland, into the ranks. It may be annoying that they are not there already, but even now it is not too late, and, at any rate, crying over spilt milk would be utterly foolish.

A word to those whom age compels to accept the duty of merely inducing others to serve at the front. To begin with, let them explain to the young men a fact which unfortunately has not been made quite clear in some of the advertisements and proclamations, although it is distinctly set forth in the latest on which we reproduce elsewhere. Many men are clamouring to go into the Territorials, which are full, rather than into Lord Kitchener’s new battalions which are empty. The reason why the Territorials are preferred is because people think that they will be able to get out of them more easily when the war is over. As a matter of fact, the reverse is the case. Nominally, no doubt, the men under Lord Kitchener’s scheme are asked to become Regulars, but they are not Regulars at all in the old sense. They will get their discharge directly the war is over, whereas Territorial enlistment is for four years. Therefore a less arduous obligation is undertaken by those who join the new force than by those who join the Territorials. It is a great pity that anything was said in the appeal about the three years, because, unfortunately, a great many people have fastened upon that and said: “That means they will keep us for three years in any case.” As a matter of fact, it merely means, and was only intended to mean, that if the war was to last longer than three years a man could claim his discharge at the end of three years. But that is an empty privilege, for no one would dream of claiming it till the war is over. The terms mean “Till the war is finished”, and nothing more or less.

But the war must be finished before three years are over, for it is absolutely impossible for it to continue on the present scale for more than a year, if that. It may be said, perhaps, in explanation of the desire to join the Territorials rather than the new force, that the Territorials will not be sent out of the country. This is surely a mistake. If the need should arise for sending Territorial out of the country, they will be asked to volunteer, and they will be certain to respond to the call. Indeed, a large number of them have already volunteered. As a matter of fact, the moment man is in the army during a war what he wants to do is to go on foreign service, and not to kick his heels in a garrison town or camp in England. It will be seen, therefore, that there is no special advantage in a Territorial enlistment. There is nothing now but war enlistment – and, in the matter of time, there is a distinct advantage in the terms of enlistment of Lord Kitchener’s new force. This force will be the first to be disembodied and sent home. Enlisters should explain that fact to hesitating young men. They should also explain to the relatives that their lads will be doing the best for themselves by entering the Army. Whoever has to go short, if bad times come, it will not be the soldier. He, at any rate, will be fed and clothed, and looked after, for he has become essential to the nation, and must therefore be first served. In the case of the breadwinner of the family, it may very often be better for him to be in the ranks than at home. He is likely, indeed, to be able to do more bread-winning in the Army than at home. No soldier will be unemployed…

One more word to those who are inducing young men to go into the ranks. At this moment it is the duty of all employers, rich or poor, to discharge no man but this does not apply to men of military age – i.e., those between nineteen and thirty, who are sound in wind and limb. In our opinion, employers not only have a moral right to discharge such men if they will not go into the fighting line, but in many cases also have a positive duty to do so. Rich men who are over military age need not to continue keeping soft billets, footmen, under-gardeners, stable boys, or young game keepers merely because the occupants of these pleasant places may not care to learn the prime duty to defending their country. Again, fathers of families and employers must see to it that young men do not excuse themselves from doing their plain duty by joining some fancy force, or saying they can really do better work by entering a Rifle Club or a Village Guard or a Local Patrol. All these things are excellent for the older men and are their most appropriate work, but they are not the appropriate work for men between nineteen and thirty. For them there is but one duty, and that is to join Lord Kitchener’s force until the five hundred thousand men are made up. “But if everyone does that there will be too many” is a criticism which will be made at once made by the captious. No doubt; but in that case the lucky man will be the man who applies first. We shall never get the five hundred thousand we need unless everybody is not only ready to but offers to go. The man who says in his heart: “I won’t offer myself till just the very end when they are sure not to want me”, and acts on this belief, must stand disgraced before the country, and will deserve the opprobrium he gets.

Fortunately the young women of all classes are going to take charge of this. In the last resort they are the best recruiting agents, and the people best qualified to put on that firm pressure that may be need for about one per cent of our young men. If it is made quiet clear that young men who do not use their best endeavours to get into Lord Kitchener’s new force will be known and noted for what they are by their countrywomen, we shall have precious little “shirking and lurking”. Men can bear plenty of things from women with out any feeling of resentment, but there is one thing they cannot bear – that their womenkind should think them lacking in courage. The cautious or shy lad, then, had better get it over at once. If not, he will in the end be forced by public opinion to do what he ought have done without compulsion at the beginning.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments


The Spectator Comment Policy

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.