E. Belfort Bax

War Reflections - II

(13 May 1915)

E. Belfort Bax, War Reflections II, Justice, 13th May 1915, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Hard Facts

Now here are three sets of hard facts which all the mud-slinging of our pacifists anent the origin of the war and the diplomacy which preceded it fail altogether to touch. The attitude of mind of those who seek to palliate the crime of the Prussian war-makers is, I repeat, difficult to comprehend. One of them the other day spoke in a tone of quasi-condonation as to the “admission” of some eminent authority that if Germany wanted to attack France the invasion of Belgium was a “strategic necessity.” This may be. In the same way the late Dr. Crippen found the slaying and dismemberment of the woman who made his life a hell to him was a “domestic necessity.” But doubtless the writer would not have admitted this “domestic necessity” as any condonation for Crippen’s crime. On the contrary, our friend would probably insist on the counter-necessity of drastic punishment, even if not capital, to deter men from yielding to such “domestic necessity.” So we urge the desirability of drastic measures to deter States from yielding to such “strategic necessity” as the invasion and laying waste of harmless neutral countries. To me the plea of “strategic necessity” implies an aggravation rather than a diminution of the offence. I hold most strongly with the view expressed by Marx in one of his letters that the same canons of ethics should be applied to States as to individuals.

The Yoke of Prussian Militarism

We all agree with what our pacifists urge as to the iniquity of secret diplomacy, and we may admit the shortcomings of Sir Edward Grey in the course of his Ministerial career. But all this is beside the main issue of the present war, into which the German peoples were dragged by the premeditated crime of their governing and military caste centred in Berlin and Potsdam. It is a case in which it is sheer hypocrisy to talk of “impartiality” and the “other side.” There is no “other side.” The crime was without a shred or scintilla of excuse. All the special pleadings of our pro-German pacifists on behalf of the Prussian military oligarchy will not suffice to wash out the stain of this crime, but, on the contrary, only makes it appear in a stronger light. To attempt to palliate the aforesaid crime is anything but a real service to the democracy of Germany. Vaillant was indeed right when he declared “we [the French] are fighting as much for your cause as our own.” To take one point alone out of the whole Prussian despotic system: The German people have been groaning under the yoke of Prussian militarism ever since 1870, and what that yoke is those know who have had reason to investigate the processes and scandals which have arisen from time to time in connection with the military training of the German Army. The trial of Rosa Luxembourg for her attack on the German military system, which was stopped by the war, had it gone on, would, with the revelations of its thousand witnesses, have brought to light abundantly the sufferings of the Germans under the Prussian military regime.

The Rules of Evidence

There is one point about the “arguments” of our pro-Prussian apologists deserving of a word of remark. I refer to the lame attempt to cast doubt upon the fact itself of the criminal conduct of this war by the Prusso-German military staffs. Now the absurdity of this position of attempting to asperse the truth of patent and proven fact, I submit, argues such an inconceivable ignorance or inability to recognise the obvious rules of evidence which the same persons would unhesitatingly accept on any other issue as almost to drive one to the theory of deliberate dishonesty on their part. The evidence for the bulk of the planned atrocities which have formed such a distinguishing feature of this war on the German side rests on quite as good evidence as the fact that there is a war at all. I have not seen the atrocities, but neither have I seen the fighting in the trenches. The fact that there is fighting going on, and (say) the fact that civilians, men, women, and children, have been slaughtered wholesale and in cold blood in Belgium, alike are based upon the evidence of report, and no one who has perused that evidence can honestly say that it is weaker in the latter case than in the former.

And, then, how about the mines sowed in the open sea, and the bombs thrown on defenceless non-combatant populations? Is that all newspaper “kid”? On the other hand, nothing is more significant than the ghastly failure of the attempt at a tu quoque made by the German official Press. Every allegation of atrocities launched by this Press against the Allies has broken down on investigation – and the investigation, not of the “enemy” but of impartial Germans themselves. This applies even to the Russian Army, which seems, perhaps for reasons of expediency, to be on its best behaviour. Our German comrades of the Vorwärts have done yeoman’s service in exposing Prussian official calumnies and lies in this matter. No! the attempt at the tu quoque retort has assuredly broken down as hopelessly as the attempt to cast doubt on the Prussian atrocities themselves!

After all, what is the use of quibbling in this way when we have the orders of the Supreme War Lord concerning “frightfulness” and acting like Huns. The atrocities which have developed into the use of asphyxiating gas and the poisoning of wells have reached their culminating point in the torpedoing of the Lusitania and the sacrifice of more than a thousand non-combatant lives. No sooner does some particular atrocity startle the civilised world than the Prussian military authorities issue impudent statements to the effect that the Allies have been doing the same thing. They have even now improved upon this method by forestalling their own actions, as in the case of asphyxiating gas, where they charged the Allies with committing this atrocity while they themselves were preparing it. Is it not time that apologists for Prussian Militarism and its inhuman and dastardly crimes were eliminated from the ranks of Socialist bodies?


Last updated on 9.10.2005