MP Harmsworth: Murder on the high seas


Since I wrote my last Parliamentary Letter, now nearly three months ago, the war has proceeded with varying fortunes from day to day, but always with some improvement in the prospects of the Allies.

We have had out bitter losses, our long daily casualty lists, our misadventures by land and sea. As long as history endures we will remember the heroes who have sacrificed themselves for us and who, whether they have been serving in the Navy or the Army, have been safeguarding our hearths and homes as certainly as if they had fought within the borders of our own country.

For the moment, the frontiers of Britain are not the grey seas that surround us on every side, but the fluctuating lines of battle in Flanders, in France and, if the matter is rightly apprehended, in Russia too. It is not a dramatic spectacle that we are watching, but a life and death struggle in which our own future is as closely involved as that of any of our Allies.

As I say, however, our fortunes have improved and are improving. The lines of battle do not alter very perceptively from one day to another, but always our strength waxes as our adversary wanes. We are only now beginning to put forth our fullest efforts. Truth to tell, we were not prepared for a conflict on this scale. I doubt if any of the combatants, with the exception of Germany, had any clear conception as to the size and nature of the struggle in which we are now engaged.

We at least can argue with perfect honesty that the best proof of our having had no thought of aggression in our minds is that fact that it is only now, seven months after the outbreak of the war, that we are adequately prepared for war.

Let there be no mistake. We have done wonders in the way of preparation in these seven months. In accordance with Lord Haldane's splendid plan, out Territorial Army is now fit, as the Prime Minister said today, to confront the best troops in Europe. The new battalions of the so-called "Kitchener's Army" have improved beyond recognition. Our number are beyond any calculations that War Ministers of either party have ever asked for, and still the stream of recruits pours in unceasingly.

It is strange, when you think of it, that the simple "Tommy" has often a sounder opinion as to the deadly importance of this conflict than people who are older and think themselves wiser than he. He is prepared to make the supreme sacrifice - to risk his worldly prospects, his health, his life itself, for the great cause. We stay-at-homes may well reconcile ourselves to any inconvenience that the war imposes on us, for however much discomfort we suffer, our troubles are trifles light as air in comparison with his.

I have said that the strength of the enemy is declining. This is evidences in many ways, and in no way more obviously than by the desperate shifts to which he has latterly felt himself obliged to resort. During the last few weeks we have had the German "blockade" of our country. This is in effect not a blockade but a return to the methods of Captain Kidd and the notorious pirates of old. To sink neutral or hostile merchantmen, without examination of papers and, more important, without putting a prize crew on board or making other arrangements for the safety of the ship's company, is piracy. A still plainer English name is "murder".

This is the latest policy of the second Naval Power. In strict justice, every German naval officer or man who has engaged in these practices would merit and would receive the hangman's noose. The bombardment of open seaside towns is murder. The sinking of harmless merchantmen and resigning their crews to their fate is murder. This is what Germany has come to.

Fortunately, the first Naval Power is in a position to face this situation with equanimity. We shall not ask the officers and men of our glorious fleets to stain their hands with the blood of innocent men. We shall merely tighten still further the inexorable squeeze of sea power. As the Prime Minister has announced today, nothing in the way of supplies shall go into Germany and nothing in the way of exports shall come out.

An inadequate reply to German atrocities, you may say. I don't think so. After all, we have great traditions behind us and splendid ideals in front of us. It would be a calamity of worldwide significance if the first Naval Power condescended to German methods. Besides, we shall succeed by honest policy where German blood-guiltiness will miserably fail. These latest examples of German policy must needs have one important result, and that is to convince all neutrals that it is essential to their interests that the German power should be broken and defeated. Imagination staggers at the thought of a world in which German ideas of warfare and domination should ultimately prevail. I have no doubt myself that the police exercised by the enemy in its attempts to "blockade" out coasts is being watched with painful solicitude by every small and bis neutral country in the world.


House of Commons,

March 1st, 1915