Harry Quelch 1905

Army Reform

Source: Social Democrat, Vol. IX No. 11, November, 1905, pp. 663-665;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Whatever other charge may be laid against the members of the present Administration no one will, most assuredly, ever accuse them of undue modesty. If there is one department in which more than any other the record has been one of ghastly failure, it is the army; yet here we have that opera-bouffe army reformer, the present Secretary of State for War, not only glorifying what he has already accomplished, but bragging of what he intends to do. Speaking recently at Croydon, he prophesied that in three years’ time the army would be better than it had ever been. Mr. Arnold-Forster should remember the old proverb, and refrain from prophesying until after the event. Considerably more than three years have elapsed since Lord Roberts assured us that the South African War was over; yet, according to “our greatest general,” nothing has yet been done to remedy the defects of army organisation which manifested themselves in that campaign. Mr. Arnold-Forster has but a short time in which to remedy all this. For one thing everybody interested in army reform may be grateful for, and that is that before three years have elapsed, the present War Secretary will be relieved of all further responsibility in the matter. This consideration, however, does not deter him from bold assertions with regard to the future. There is to be a perfect transformation in three years. The men are to be better men, the artillery will be stronger than it has ever been in our history, the armament will be the best in Europe, the organisation will be the best for many years, and the reserve far greater than it has ever been.

We wonder how it is all going to be accomplished. Mr. Arnold-Forster says that he has regarded the army as purely a weapon for war – that, doubtless, is a step in advance, his predecessors probably have generally regarded it as a weapon for peace, to shoot down mutinous workmen, or as a plaything for princes – and we must have a long-service army. Why the present Secretary for War should have arrived at such a conclusion, seeing that the tendency among the chief military nations of the Continent is towards reducing the term of service, and how he expects to get more and better men for a long-service army than under the short-service system, we cannot pretend to say. Neither is it easy to discover how, with such a long-service army, even supplemented by short-service men “passing rapidly through the ranks,” a reserve, “greater than there has ever been,” is to be provided. This, at any rate, is quite certain, that if better men, and more of them, are to be attracted to the army, and for a long term of service, they will require better pay. If the scheme of the Government as thus shadowed forth is to be carried out, our army, like our food, will “cost us more.”

It will be well, therefore, before people go into ecstasies over Mr. Arnold-Forster’s bright vision of a re-organised and effective army, for them to ask themselves if they are prepared to bear the additional cost. We are paying pretty dearly for our army now. It costs some forty millions a year, or two-thirds of the total national expenditure of thirty years ago. But if we are to get better men and more of them, it is quite certain that it will cost considerably more. It will be interesting to see how the Liberals, who will inherit Mr. Arnold-Forster’s great scheme, will contrive to effect their promised retrenchment in military expenditure.

As a matter of fact, of course, it will be quite impossible for the Liberals to retrench if only a portion of this latest scheme of the latest army reformer becomes an accomplished fact within the next two years. There is only one method by which any appreciable reduction in expenditure can be achieved and that is by a reduction of the number of men enrolled. But neither party is prepared to approve of that. On the contrary, all are agreed that the army needs strengthening rather than weakening. That is out of the question, without increasing the cost, unless the principle of universal military training, in some form or another, is adopted. We know that Mr. Arnold-Forster is not in favour of that, and has made himself responsible for a preposterous estimate of its cost. Yet it is not difficult to show that such a system would be far cheaper than any standing regular army of professional soldiers could possibly be under any circumstances, to say nothing of a long-service army. We are glad to see that Lord Roberts is in opposition to Arnold-Forster on this issue, and the prospective Liberal Government will have to choose between a costly long-service army of professional soldiers, a weapon alike for peace and war, or universal military training, which will enable vast economies to be effected in military expenditure, and will render the maintenance of a standing army unnecessary.

H. Quelch.