MP Harmsworth: Civilisation v barbarianism


During the last few days the Germans have developed another attack on the lines of the Allies north of Ypres. The fortunes of the great battle have swayed this way and that. Villages have been taken and retaken and occasions have been given for the display of of many splendid acts of heroism on the part of our troops.

The Bedfordshires have been in the thick of it as usual, and have added glorious lustre to a record that goes back now well over two centuries. Our Canadian brothers, too, have magnificently distinguished themselves. With what astonishment must the devotion of our Colonial forces be regarded by enemy critics of the Von Bernhardi type, who fondly expected that our self-governing dominions would fall away from the Mother Country in the hour of her peril.

MP Cecil HarmsworthThe Germans on their side have not failed to impress the world by their readiness to throw aside all the safeguards of civilisation in their frantic efforts to break through the circle of steel that walls them in. The asphyxiating bomb is their most recent contribution to the science of war. For some hundreds of years decent peoples have been striving by means of International agreements, by Hague Conventions, and what not, to mitigate in some degree the horrors of war.

Piracy, we thought, had been banished from the high seas, and mainly, we were proud to think, through the instrumentality of the British Navy. It was left for the Germans to revive a method of warfare on the sea which corresponds to cold-blooded murder on land. Now we have the poisonous bomb. What next?

This second (or is it the third?) attempt to force a way through to Calais has a special interest for us. Our enemy is at no pains to conceal his hatred for us as a nation. The reason is not far to seek. We have, in plain English, upset his apple-cart. We have frustrated the plans and ruined the careful calculations of forty years. Hence the despicable and irreligious cry of "Gott straafe England". God punish England indeed!

How sweet it would have been to lay waste the fair provinces of France, re-enter Paris, to exact enormous indemnities, to reduce a great free people to a condition of vassalage! We stopped all that and now our enemy seeks to establish himself not in Paris but in Calais and Boulogne - over against and in full view of the white cliffs of Old England.

Pretty neighbours for us, these apostles of culture! The aspiring sea power that recks nothing of murderous attacks on defenceless merchantmen and fishermen, whether hostile or neutral, and leaves harmless civilians to drown like rats or to suffer exposure in cockleshell boats on wintry seas, would be, I say, a pleasant neighbour for a people that depends on its command of the sea for its daily bread.

Little wonder that our gallant sons are rallying in their hundreds of thousands to the colours, and that our workshops ring with preparations for war. We who were slow to think evil of German intentions, who trusted over much to lavish protestations of friendship, who hospitably entertained from time to time the chief of a State that was all the time plotting our ruin, we have roused ourselves at last to complete wakefulness, and there is no sacrifice we will not cheerfully make to redeem a too confiding past.

We must still expect such frantic onslaughts as that of the enemy on our lines in Flanders. We must make up our minds to the further loss of precious lives. It is not too much to say that we and our allies are trustees for the cause of civilisation against the most determined effort that has been made in recent centuries to bring back the age of barbarism. Fortunate for us it is that Armageddon does not find us battling alone against the barbarians.

Our discussions in the House of Commons during the past week have been harmonious and uneventful. The Prime Minister's speech in Newcastle and the no less momentous pronouncement of Mr Lloyd George in the House of Commons have gone far to remove the uneasy impressions created by a fretful and peevish section of the Press. It is true that our warlike preparations were not originally on the Continental scale. As well might it be complained that none of our allies made naval preparations on our scale.

As things go, however, we bid fair to create an army that will rank for numbers and will excel in equipment some great European armies. And we shall do it without coercing any man to the performance of his patriotic duty.


House of Commons,

27th April, 1915.

[The Luton News, April 29th, 1915]