THE ISSUES OF THE WAR
“March ahead of the ideas of your age, and it will follow you: go with them, and you can feel at ease: remain behind them, and you are lost.”—NAPOLEON III.
Sec.1. Is there an Idea behind the War?—The object of the preceding chapters has been to provide the historic background without which it is impossible to understand either the motives of our opponents or the events which led up to their quarrel. It is now necessary to attempt a survey of the issues raised by the war, both as concerns Europe as a whole and the individual nations which form its component parts. This is a task of no small difficulty, for just as it is true to say that no war in the previous history of mankind has ever been waged on so huge a scale as this, so it is also true to say that the issues raised by it are vaster and more varied than those of any previous European conflict. It is as though by the pressure of an electric button some giant sluice had been opened, unchaining forces over which mortal men can hardly hope to recover control and whose action it is wellnigh impossible to foresee.
Yet complex as is the problem before us, it is essential that we should face it bravely. There is grave danger lest, just as we have been “rushed into” this war (through no fault of ours, as the diplomatic correspondence abundantly proves), so we may at a given moment be “rushed out” of it, without having reached any very clear idea as to what issues are involved, and how far our vital interests have been affected.
The essence of the problem before us is to discover whether there is an Idea behind this war—whether on our own side or on that of the enemy. A dangerous question, this!—a question posed again and again by the jingoes and the fanatics of history, and invariably answered according to the dictates of their own convenience. And yet a question which we dare not shirk, a question which a Carlyle, a Ruskin, a William Morris would not have hesitated to formulate. Does Britain stand for an Idea? Is it true that we are fighting in the main for the cause of Liberty and Democracy, for progress in Europe and the world at large? And if this be really true to-day, how can we best ensure that it shall still be true at the close of this long war, if, as we hope and pray, victory crowns the arms of the Allies? It was an Idea that nerved Britain for the struggle against Napoleon. It was an Idea that inspired Germany in the great uprising of 1813 against Napoleon. It was an Idea that brought the Balkan League into being and carried its armies in triumph to Salonica and Adrianople. Freedom, Unity, Liberation, such were the forms which that Idea took: the determination of a free people to resist an upstart despot’s designs of world-dominion; the enthusiasm of a divided nation for the dream of national unity; the longing of races which had but recently won their own freedom,